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Strategies of the poorest in local water conflict and cooperation -€“ Evidence from Vietnam, Bolivia and Zambia

Mikkel Funder
Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark; mfu@diis.dk
Rocio Bustamante
Centro Agua, Universidad Mayor de San Simon, Cochabamba, Bolivia; rocio.bust@gmail.com
Vladimir Cossio
Centro Agua, Universidad Mayor de San Simon, Cochabamba, Bolivia; vladicossio@gmail.com
Pham Thi Mai Huong
Hanoi University of Agriculture, Hanoi, Vietnam; huongmaipham@yahoo.com
Barbara van Koppen
International Water Management Institute, Pretoria, South Africa; b.vankoppen@cgiar.org
Carol Mweemba
Integrated Water Resources Management Center, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia; carol.mweemba@unza.zm
Imasiku Nyambe
Integrated Water Resources Management Center, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia; inyambe@unza.zm
Le ThiThan Phuong
Hanoi University of Agriculture, Hanoi, Vietnam; ltphuong_cares@yahoo.com
Thomas Skielboe
Nordic Agency for Development & Ecology, Copenhagen, Denmark; ts@iwgia.org

ABSTRACT: Media stories often speak of a future dominated by large-scale water wars. Rather less attention has been paid to the way water conflicts already play out at local levels and form part of people'€™s everyday lives. Based on case study studies from Vietnam, Bolivia and Zambia, this paper examines the strategies of poor households in local water conflicts. It is shown how such households may not only engage actively in collaborative water management but may also apply risk aversion strategies when faced with powerful adversaries in conflict situations. It is further shown how dependency relations between poor and wealthy households can reduce the scope of action for the poor in water conflicts. As a result, poor households can be forced to abstain from defending their water resources in order to maintain socio-economic and political ties with the very same households that oppose them in water conflicts. The paper concludes by briefly discussing how the poorest can be supported in local water conflicts. This includes ensuring that alternative spaces for expressing grievances exist and are accessible; facilitating that water sharing agreements and rights are clearly stipulated and monitored; and working beyond water governance to reduce the socio-economic dependency-relations of poor households.