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Liquid accountability: Water as a common, public and private good in the Peruvian Andes

Karsten Paerregaard
Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden; karsten.paerregaard@globalstudies.gu.se

ABSTRACT: Taking its point of departure from the debate on 'water as commodity' versus 'water as commons', the article compares recent changes in the water governance of two rural communities in the Peruvian Andes. It draws on the anthropological tradition of controlled comparison to examine the different ways that the state and other external agents have accelerated the commodification of water in these communities and challenged their notions of water rights and water accountability. The article suggests that water is commodified through three kinds of transaction: as tribute-for-usage, which is used to manage water as a common good; as tax/tariff-for-right, which is used to manage water as a public good; and as ticket-for-product, which is used to manage water as a private good. It argues that Peru’s water users, rather than considering these three types of transactions to be conflicting forms of accountability, view them as complementary relations of exchange with the agents that control the water flow in their communities and regulate their water supply. It also proposes that, rather than being a one-way process that moves from communal control towards commercialisation and privatisation, the commodification of water is inherent in the water management of Peru’s highland communities. The article concludes that in a time of climate change and growing water scarcity the communities are keeping as many options open as possible. Managing water as at the same time a common, public and private good, and accounting for their water use to not one but several water providers, is therefore an important priority for these communities.

KEYWORDS: Water management, water accountability, water as commons, commodification of water, ethnographic comparison, Peru, Andes