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Restrictions (WP)

Author/Compiled by
Aleix Ferrer Duch (seecon international gmbh)
Executive Summary

Restrictions and prohibitions are a part of command & control tools, i.e. which are regulatory instruments that are direct and mandatory. Restrictions, rationing or full prohibitions are legal prescriptions that have a direct impact on the range of options open to specified social actors, as they constrain certain ways of acting or exclude some forms of conduct. It is assumed that actors behave according to the prescription or norm in order to avoid penalties. Enforcement mechanisms and agencies are fundamental to the viability and effectiveness of restriction instruments. Enforcement policies rely on a variety of instruments, ranging from license withdrawal to criminal prosecution. A classical example is the restriction of water use during dry summers or droughts. For example, the use of water for non-essential purposes, such as washing cars or for watering flowers has been restricted in Australia of many years (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001).

Highly foreseeable effectiveness
Effective if easy to implement and targeted towards regionally limited problems
Can be rapidly implemented by government bodies (once laws are established)
Effective, as people want to avoid the penalties for non-compliance
Spread of best available technologies
Effective in the long term, even when restrictions are not imposed any more, thanks to the learning effect
Only effective if compliance can be controlled and non-compliance punished
Is not a flexible tool, so it is not empowering environmental policies
High costs to control whether restrictions are followed
Is an instrument based on imposition; does not necessarily motivate people to collaborate; can result in political disapproval
Creating and instituting laws is time-consuming and has administrative costs

Restrictions and Prohibitions as a Part of Command & Control Tools

A restriction is less strict than a prohibition. A prohibition strictly forbids something, and a restriction just limits something, but does not forbid it in general. Specific actions or specific outcomes of actions can be restricted to certain conditions, rationed, or prohibited entirely. For example, during dry summers or droughts, the use of water for non-essential purposes, such as washing cars or for watering flowers is restricted in some countries as for example Australia. Accordingly, restrictions place limits on the scope or freedom of action and prohibitions forbid the use of something, or command against it (e.g. illegal discharge).

Restrictions and prohibitions are prescribed by mandatory orders. Thus, the rationale of this instrument type is based exclusively on command, control, and sanction. It is assumed that actors behave according to the prescription or norm in order to avoid penalties. Enforcement mechanisms and agencies are fundamental to the viability and effectiveness of restriction instruments. Enforcement policies rely on a variety of (conditional or secondary) instruments, ranging from licence withdrawal to criminal prosecution. Enforcement measures often involve an economic component in addition to the pure regulatory aspect (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001).

Main Implementation Actors and Target Groups

In most democracies, only the legislative authorities are legitimised to use command and control instruments for the use of public goods like water. Although their implementation may be (partly) delegated to private bodies, the final decision on their application (and eventual enforcement measures) remains with the public authorities. However, on a lower level also communities, institutions (such as schools) and even households can apply restrictions within their premises. The Dalit Shakti Kendra, a vocational training institute in Gujarat, India for example, has stringent restrictions for water use for its students (e.g. only 15l of water per shower are allowed) to save precious drinking water.

Restriction instruments can be used to influence the behaviour of any target group: individuals (e.g. who are restricted in their water use for non-essential purposes) as well as corporate actors or private companies (which are restricted in discharging certain chemicals to the wastewater). Basically, these instruments apply in the same way to every actor or group of actors specified in the legal norm (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001).

Things to Consider Before Applying Restriction Tools

The implementation and enforcement of restrictions instruments can be troublesome in many respects. Often, implementation places heavy demands on technical competence as well as on the amount of available human and financial resources to control the compliance with imposed restrictions (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001). Legislation must be clear (see also legal framework, both in regard to the way the authorities plan to control the imposed restrictions, and to what will happen to this people, which do not show compliance and are caught.

When applying restrictions, their announcements should indicate:


  • commencement and termination dates
  • a description of the restriction levels and where they apply
  • definitions for each restriction level
  • the target
  • and the geographic area in which the restriction conditions apply (COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA 2008)


Longer-lasting reductions in different kinds of pollution or overuse are achieved by a combination of software tools such as awareness rising, education for specific user groups, economic tools, etc. These software approaches aim at changing behaviours of local communities related to water and sanitation in a sustainable way. All those interventions have their advantages and disadvantages and require different expertise and different time scales for implementation. The combination of appropriate software tools varies depending on the socio-economic, political and environmental context prevailing in a country (GWP 2009). It is important to choose the right communication channel (radio, television, internet, posters…) to reach these users most efficiently.

Typical Examples for Restrictions at the Individual Consumer Level

Awareness raising campaign on TV in Sydney, were people are looking at their watch before watering their garden. Source: Sydney Water (2010)

Awareness raising campaign on TV in Sydney, were people are looking at their watch before watering their garden. Source: SYDNEY WATER (2010)

A classical example in water use restrictions is drought stages planning, which has been done in Australia at different governmental levels for many years (see also water use restrictions for more detailed information on this issue). The success of this approach is due to sensitising campaigns, good monitoring and sanctioning systems, as well as the gathered experience throughout the years. For instance, the water use for gardening is only allowed before 10 am and after 4 pm, in order to avoid that too much of the irrigation water just evaporates during the hot times of the day.

Other examples could be restrictions or prohibition when accessing clean water sources. In some countries with regular water shortages, people only get water every alternate day to their houses when water reservoirs do not contain enough fresh water (see also intermittent water distribution). Furthermore, other examples are restrictions on the amount of chemicals used in order to purify water or treat wastewater or temporary or local restrictions in water collection activities or in wastewater reuse or restrictions in big amounts of water recharge.


Restrictions and prohibitions are like all other command and control tools, top-down instruments that can be used to achieve a more sustainable water use. They are easy to enact but difficult to implement because people have to understand and see their use and purpose. It is necessary that the compliance with restrictions can be monitored, and non-compliance can be sanctioned.

It is essential to combine command and control tools like restrictions and prohibitions with software tools such as awareness rising campaigns and information and education campaigns in order to achieve a sustainable success.

Library references

A Typology of Tools for Building Sustainability Strategies

Since the 1980s, the Swiss federal government has actively pursued a policy to reduce the emission of pollutants from heating systems. The program bases upon three measures, which are regulatory in nature: emission thresholds, systems inspections with permits and heating controls.

KAUFMANN-HAYOZ, R. ; BAETTIG, C. ; BRUPPACHER, S. ; DEFILA, R. ; DI GIULIO, A. ; FLURY-KLEUBER, P. ; FRIEDERICH, U. ; GARBELY, M. ; JAEGGI, C. ; JEGEN, M. ; MOSLER, H.J. ; MUELLER, A. ; NORTH, N. ; ULLI-BEER, S. ; WICHTERMANN, J. ; (2001): KAUFMANN-HAYOZ, R. ; GUTSCHER, H. (2001): Changing Things – Moving People. Strategies for Promoting Sustainable Development at the Local Level. Basel: ,33-108 .

Water Wise Rules

SYDNEY WATER (2010): Video Screen Shot. Sidney: Sidney Water URL [Accessed: 23.05.2012]
Further Readings
Case Studies

Toxics Issues in Mongolia

An case study on restrictions for chemicals: After 1990, when Mongolia shifted to democracy, the Government developed and approved the Law on Protection from Toxic Chemicals in 1995 and updated a list of restricted or banned chemicals in Mongolia, including persistent organic pollutants, in 1997.

DOLGORMAA, L. ; (2004): WWF Mongolia Programme Office URL [Accessed: 26.03.2010]

Illegal Water Use in Spain. Causes, Effects and Solutions

Worldwide, agriculture accounts for a large part of water usage. Illegal use of water in agriculture is a worldwide problem, and WWF presents different solutions – including restrictions – to tackle them.

WWF ; ADENA (2006): Madrid: URL [Accessed: 26.03.2010]

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