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Lost in translation: The participatory imperative and local water governance in North Thailand and Southwest Germany

Andreas Neef
University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany; neef@uni-hohenheim.de


ABSTRACT: Water management in Thailand and Germany has been marked by a command-and-control policy-style for decades, but has recently begun to move slowly towards more inclusive and participatory approaches. In Germany, the push for public participation stems from the recently promulgated European Union Water Framework Directive (EU WFD), while participatory and integrated river basin management in Thailand has been strongly promoted by major international donors. Drawing on case studies from two watersheds in North Thailand and Southwest Germany, this paper analyzes how the participatory imperative in water governance is translated at the local level. Evidence suggests that in both countries public participation in water management is still in its infancy, with legislative and executive responsibilities being divided between a variety of state agencies and local authorities. Bureaucratic restructuring and technocratic attitudes, passive resistance on the part of administrative staff towards inclusive processes, and a trend towards the (re)centralization of responsibilities for water governance in both study regions undermines community-based and stakeholder-driven water governance institutions, thus calling into question the subsidiarity principle. State-driven participatory processes tend to remain episodic and ceremonial and have not (yet) gone beyond the informative and consultative stage. Meaningful public participation, promised on paper and in speeches, too often gets lost in translation.


KEYWORDS: Water governance, command-and-control, public participation, North Thailand, Southwest Germany