Water is a key driver for socio-economic development, livelihoods and ecosystem integrity. This is reflected in the emergence of unified paradigms such as Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and the weight accorded to it in the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. This paper interrogated the effectiveness of existing participatory planning and assessment models adapted from IWRM model on water quality and public health at community level. The analysis was built around public health ecology perspective and drew useful lessons from critique of basin wide integrated Modeling approaches and existing community participatory models envisaged under Water Users Associations (WUA) in South Africa. We extended the use of political ecology lenses to ecological public health through use of communication for development approaches, to argue that public health risk reduction and resilience building in community water projects require the use of innovative analytical and conceptual lenses that unbundle cognitive biases and failures, as well as, integrate and transform individual and collective agency. The study concludes that the inherent “passive participation” adapted from IWRM model fail to adequately address water quality and public health dimensions in its pillars. Since water quality has direct bearing on disaster risks in public health, building a coherent mitigatory vision requires the adoption of active participatory assessment and planning models that incorporate livelihoods, agency, social learning dynamics and resilience through recognition of communication for development approaches in community empowerment.
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