The Water Dissensus – A Water Alternatives Forum
What will it take to decolonize water science, policy, and practice?
Reflections by young water researchers from the Global South
Neha Khandekar, Indika Arulingam, Deepa Joshi, Upandha Udalagama, Shreya Chakraborty, Kausik Ghosh, Paula Pacheco
There is now, perhaps as never before, a growing consensus on the need for transformative change in water and climate science. As early career water researchers engaged in recent dialogues on water security, we wonder if the call for transformative change is rhetorical, or if – finally – we are witnessing genuine commitment to a truly transformative agenda. We believe that to be genuinely transformative, this agenda requires an inclusive, enabling, plural, and transdisciplinary (re)revisioning of water science, policy, and practice. At root, there are some hard choices to be made – including urgently confronting some very real colonial legacies.
What do we mean when we speak about decolonizing this space and, above all, why is this so important? At its core, decolonized water science recognizes that water management, governance, and knowledge systems – whether dominant technocentric water science or traditional knowledge and practices – are not value-neutral. Indeed, recognizing the diverse agendas and power hierarchies that determine how water is seen, understood and managed is critical. Despite ample evidence revealing the intricate, uneven, and path-dependent nature of policy and practice agendas, water scientists succumb to seductive narratives that embrace simplistic worldviews, normative assertions, and disciplinary "solutions", an allure that comes at the cost of heightened social and environmental risks (Shrestha et al., 2019). A decolonized water agenda would acknowledge that purely technological and managerial processes and decisions (Swnygedouw, 2010), particularly those made in elite, masculine settings or without any clear ideological basis (such as pitting markets and individualism against the welfare state and public institutions [Castree, 2011]), are problematic. Water problems require a different scientific vision, one that incorporates the multiplicities of locational and context-specific knowledge, a greater range of political possibilities – including beyond the dominant discourses of global institutions – and that can arrive at more critical analysis and inclusive dissensus (Swnygedouw, 2010).
As young researchers, we notice a lack of dissensus and diversity of viewpoints in discussions about water. Colonial legacies continue to shape much of our current geographic landscapes in the Global South. This is manifested in the construction of dams, canalisation, embankments, flood control structures, and metropolitan water supplies and their sources, which ignore the day-to-day realities of how human interactions with water have always been political (Hettiarachchi et al., 2019). These legacies have resulted in inherited conflicts akin to diseases (Khandekar and Srinivasan, 2021) that are difficult to shake off and are growing in severity. This is driven by the politicisation of water 'resource' sharing due to partitioning in colonial times and scientifically unreliable sources of datasets (Chokkakula, 2012; D'Souza, 2008). They also continue to propagate modes of knowledge production and imaginaries that treat water as merely an economic good, to be controlled, commodified, partitioned, and traded. The engagement of specialists stemming from engineering and economics backgrounds in planning and policymaking ignores the politics of day-to-day realities in which historians and social scientists are especially interested.
We had hoped that the 2023 UN Water Conference might provide an opportunity for a system 'reset'. While the Conference saw representatives from the Global South in abundance, there was little if any real questioning of contemporary water agendas and mandates. It was as if, 46 years after the First Water Conference in Mar Del Plata in 1977, very little had been learnt, and perhaps much had been forgotten (see the post on this Forum).
Our focus here is not yet another fuzzy narrative on colonial legacies in water science, policy, and practice. From a vantage point of the excluded, including in events like the UN Water Conference, we recognize that a decolonized water approach is easier said than done. As young water researchers based in the Global South experiencing everyday exclusions in water governance and decision-making, we propose the following first steps towards decolonizing water science:
- First, recognise that the current hegemonic knowledge systems,
ontologies and epistemologies are underpinned by technocratic,
capitalist, extractivist, and patriarchal systems. These dominant knowledge forms ultimately shape the agendas of research, policy and planning, multilateral financing institutions, politics and the media with outdated tropes and racist-exploitative imagery and understandings. This further disempowers the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Engagement with critical social sciences, humanities and history is necessary to unpack these power hierarchies in existing modes of knowledge production.
We advocate against the dominance of technocratic knowledge forms and rhetorical, tokenistic, or unequal forms of partnerships, which to us indicate the continued presence of a colonial culture. Framings, interpretations, and methods of doing water science need to emerge from, be shaped by, and ultimately serve the needs of marginalised communities from the Global South.
- Second, call out the everyday coloniality in existing water institutions. The power hierarchies drive the disparities manifest in terms of who gets a seat at the table, agenda setting, leadership roles, salaries, etc. between collaborators of the global north and global south. Our experience has been that we must fit into this system or be cast aside (and out). The few professionals and researchers from the Global South who make it within these spaces are privileged and educated in Western paradigms and knowledge systems. Through language, social capital, and embodiment, they are able to navigate these spaces. The rest end up becoming either token authors or prey to helicopter research.
We propose that more global south researchers, field partners and members of the underrepresented communities become the first authors, project Principal Investigators and project leaders in large collaborative teams. To avoid Global North researchers continuing to propagate colonial legacies through field research focus on African, Asian, or Latin American landscapes, it is time that Global South researchers study systems in the Global North.
A good example of how providing agency to the under-represented and using scientific solutions can make strides in creating a more inclusive water policy can be seen in Bolivia. There, research, advocacy by activists, social movements at the grassroots, and representation from the indigenous communities in the country's leadership led to the promulgation of a water law that declared "Water as a fundamental right for life" not only for humans but for all living beings. The new law forbids the privatization of water, recognises traditional water rights, and guarantees access to water for irrigation for Indigenous and farming communities (Alurralde, 2010).
- Third, embrace newer forms of practice rooted in care, reflexivity and empathy that can save us young professionals being buried under the current institutional regime. Fundamental to "resetting" the "same-old same old" is recognizing
the need for political dissensus, being always aware of addressing the
biases ingrained in colonial legacies – and not seeking to bury them
under the proverbial carpet. We ask for more funding and mentorship support for Youth platforms across the Global South that are all about nurturing such safe spaces and inculcating alternative values in the current scheme of practice.
Our vision overall is to help birth a truly transdisciplinary water knowledge and community of practice rooted in lived experiences that embody multiple values and knowledge forms, all coming together to create a truly decolonized future for water science.
Neha Khandekar is a researcher and policy advisor on the subject matter of water, agriculture, climate change, and inclusion. https://www.linkedin.com/in/nehajankikhandekar/
Indika Arulingam works with the Water Growth and Inclusion Program at the International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her research focuses on issues of social equity in water, land and food resources management. https://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/about/staff-list/indika-arulingam/
Deepa Joshi is the Gender, Youth and Inclusion Lead Specialist at the International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka, https://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/about/staff-list/deepa-joshi/
Upandha Udalagama is working as a consultant at the International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her work at IWMI ranges from water and growth to the complexities of gender and its intersections with socioeconomic status.
Shreya Chakraborty works as a researcher on climate change, policy and adaptation at the International Water Management Institute, New Delhi https://www.linkedin.com/in/shreya-chakraborty-24a2b337/
Kausik Ghosh is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography at Vidyasagar University, West Bengal, India. His research and teaching involve river basin hydrology, fluvial geomorphology, sedimentary processes, ecosystem services and transboundary water conflicts. http://faculty.vidyasagar.ac.in/Faculties/Profile?fac_u_id=Fac-CHEM-165
Paula L. Pacheco Mollinedo is the former Director of the Bolivian NGO Agua Sustentable. Sheis currently doing a PhD with IRD-France. She has taken the voices of indigenous to several global dialogue processes such as COPs, World Water Forums, World Water Congress, and others.
Shrestha, G., Joshi, D. and Clément, F. (2019). Masculinities and hydropower in India: A feminist political ecology perspective. The Commons Journal, 13(1), p.130-152.DOI: https://doi.org/10.18352/ijc.920
Swyngedouw, E. (2010). Apocalypse forever? Theory, Culture & Society, 27(2–3), 213–232. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276409358728
Castree, N. (2011), Neoliberalism and the Biophysical Environment 3: Putting theory into practice. Geography Compass, 5: 35-49. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-8198.2010.00406.x
Hettiarachchi, M., Morrison, T. H., & McAlpine, C. (2019). Power, politics and policy in the appropriation of urban wetlands: the critical case of Sri Lanka. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 46(4), 729-746.
Khandekar, N. and Srinivasan, V. (2021). Dispute resolution in the Cauvery Basin, India. Handbook of Catchment Management 2e (eds R. Ferrier and A. Jenkins). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119531241.ch22
D' Souza, R. (2008). Framing India's hydraulic crisis: The politics of the modern large fam, Monthly Review 3: 60. https://monthlyreview.org/2008/07/01/framing-indias-hydraulic-crisis-the-politics-of-the-modern-large-dam/
Chokkakula, S (2012). Disputes, (de)politicization and democracy: Interstate water disputes in India, RULNR Working Paper No.13, CESS Working Paper No.108. https://cprindia.org/workingpapers/disputes-depoliticization-and-democracy-interstate-water-disputes-in-india/
Alurralde, J. C. (2010). After the water wars: The search for common ground. Comisión para la Gestión Integral del Agua en Bolivia. https://idrc-crdi.ca/en/research-in-action/after-water-wars-search-common-ground
We would like to acknowledge Alan Nicol, Strategic Program Director – Water, Growth and Inclusion at the International Water Management Institute, Ethiopia for his time in engaging with our thoughts and providing valuable comments and feedback for the article.Credit: Graphics by IYWN
Putting it simple, I think that the issue falls in the realm of "people problems".
I would write a detailed document that describes the goals and then I would write a job description that would fit the type of person to work toward achieving the goals. This can be tricky bit it helps put things in an operative state of mind.
To do this properly, you will have to choose a steering committee that will be formed by people who are known to already meet the job description parameters. They can not be candidates for the job.
This is a general overview. It doesn't fall in the general way that things are done but look where that has brought us. And yes, it can be done.
Your post deals with some general recommendation concerning project management, but the initiators of this dissensus seem to be aiming to another general kind of problem. I believe that they want to discuss the qualities, or lack of, within the current international ecosystem of water scientists, water managers, and politicians. Whose interests is this ecosystem serving?
Thank you very much for these thought-provoking reflections. I agree with you that it is highly relevant to put colonial legacies and decolonization on the water agenda. I would add to your list the importance of decolonizing water education (e.g. at universities, but also other ‘knowledge institutes’). This relates to the decolonization of curricula (what is taught, which and whose knowledge(s) is presented as legitimate or rather left out, etc.) as well as pedagogies (the way things are taught). Also, encouraging multidirectional flows of student researchers across continents is a hands-on idea that would contribute to a decolonization of study practices (beyond North-South dichotomies and unidirectional mobility).
On a different note, I was also triggered by the drawing you included to represent the colonial/decolonial past and future. I was wondering: do you think a decolonized future is material-wise one without dams? Is that so? I would want to place a question mark behind this. Couldn’t certain efforts to re-wild also be understood as a kind of neo-colonialism in which certain ideas about a nature (void of human influences) are sometimes forced upon local territories and realities where groups and people might actually prefer to (or depend on) having dams, river embankments or similar, rather than ‘wild nature’ as the drawing seems to suggest? Maybe the drawing was just intended as a metaphor, but anyways an interesting discussion: what the decolonial future would/should/could look like, also materially.
Just some lose thoughts. Thanks for opening this discussion topic!
I think you should get your facts sorted when it comes to student researcher mobility (the UNESCO database is there to help).
Lena and Philippe, thank you for your engagement with this piece and the vibrant discussions that have unfolded as a result. Keep the comments coming, and let's keep the conversation flowing!
Philippe – I believe the conversation on student researcher mobility was not necessarily focused on physical mobility of students but about uneven spatial and intellectual scope and flexibility between researchers of the global north and global south. While researchers in the global north are given enormous flexibility in leading and conducting research in the global south, global south researchers are often always hired or expected to study mostly their own countries. This is quite clear in the way ODA funding demands researchers of their own countries as lead PIs or in the international development sector where researchers from the global north are highly incentivized to study the global south and claim greater expertise in the region over their local researchers counterparts solely due to their western education degrees which is unduly considered to be of higher quality.
Lena, in line with my response to Philippe, thankyou for flagging the need to decolonise education and curricula. Indeed, that should be the foundation on which decolonising water science should stand. It would not only incorporate interdisciplinarity, plural knowledges, but also multidirectional flows of science education. In other words, education needs to incorporate both, the process of imparting knowledge as well as the process of listening and care. In the unidirectional flows of education in a binary hierarchical teacher-student framework (defining the more and less knowledgeable thereby creating assumptions about what “knowledge” is), colonised science is reproduced and reinforced.
Also, thank you for the bringing in the need to look at decolonised science from a hydrosocial perspective with intricate social and ecological relations. It provokes a more nuanced perspective on what a decolonised water regime would look like and how we get there.
No doubt, the earmarking of ODA funds to homegrown researchers is an issue. Coming from a small country, with a miniscule ODA (which never funded me), I hear you loud and clear.
My point was to be a more broad observation; that there is tremendous amounts of movement all over the place; from south to north; from south to south; east to west; and from north to south, etc. All of which contributes to the diffusion of knowledge and the changing of knowledge systems. And I believe in all directions. The largest part of this is associated with people that will end up in the private sector; people that study law, medicine, vet, economics, engineering and computer science, etc. So the case you are concerned with (researchers/experts dependent on ODA), and which i agree with to some extent, is a small part of the a much more diverse puzzle, and not reflective of the overall picture the way I see it. And that is why I earlier said: decolonizing includes diversifying the resources base - and by that I mean becoming independent from ODA and working in locally funded positions and lobbying national governments to allocate resources towards this end.
Thank you for your engagement and sharing your thoughts. Yes, the drawing is intended to be more as a metaphor. But also very rightly pointed that we need to be careful of imposing ideas of conservation of rivers without the society/ communities residing in those regions. An ideal conservation model in areas with humans is one which does not jeopardise the traditional forms of livelihoods.
Thank you, dear Lena, for taking the time to dive into our blogpost and sharing your valuable thoughts through your comments. We greatly appreciate your engagement and the vibrant discussions that have unfolded as a result. Rest assured that we are committed to acknowledging and responding to each and every comment, ensuring an ongoing dialogue that nurtures the growth of our community. Keep the comments coming, and let's keep the conversation flowing!
I agree fully with all your comments. Just to add here: Nepal which is one of the few countries that was not colonized has a large number of controversial mega hydropower projects. However, the majority of Nepali technocrats were educated in colonially established technical institutions in neighboring India or elsewhere in the Global North. Was the dam agenda then an outcome of colonial science (if not colonialism per se)? Are dams good or bad for Nepal vis-a-vis wild, untamed landscapes which have been synonymous with generational poverty? Who makes these decisions and how – I think is the point we should have emphasized better in our text?
I think it's also good to remind ourselves that colonialism is a long ongoing historical project – implicit with overt masculinity which existed before the British Empire (and other Western colonialisms), and that the large infrastructure agenda (Macchu Pichu, Taj Mahal) are all implicit tied to these historical colonialisms and mass exploitation of labor.
Protecting from wild/wandering rivers is common, even documented before the precolonial period. But look at the scale and intention of such constructions in the colonial and post-colonial periods, which ignored land and water connectivity and ecosystem services across the river continuum. We agree these structures reduce short-term floods as benefits, but in the long-term these force rivers to become more wilder and wandering in nature (e.g. Kosi River in India in 2008 experienced an embankment breach flood), which is unsustainable and vulnerable for the riparian communities. Nevertheless, embankments are often perceived as an immediate solution due to the observed short-term benefits in the lifespan of individuals. Metaphorically, we envision that future decolonization practices will prioritize restoring diversity and reestablishing lateral and upstream and downstream connectivity between land and rivers. In this future vision, dams and embankments will continue to exist, but their function will be to enable rivers to carry sediment and facilitate the creation of land upstream, downstream, and beyond the confines of the riverbanks into floodplains. This approach will allow for a more sustainable and resilient relationship between rivers and the communities that depend on them.
Thanks for opening this conversation about the legacies and realities of colonialism on water science, policy, and practice. This is a much, much needed topic of dialogue!!!
It seems like most of this piece considers the vantage point of "global South" countries that have achieved independence - at least in terms of government - from European colonizing nations and yall argue in favor of decolonizing the water systems, policies, knowledges, etc. of these postcolonial nations. I fully agree, sounds great.
I'm curious, however, your thoughts on nations that continue to experience ongoing colonialism, sometimes called "settler colonialism". I'm writing from the United States where the US Revolutionary War was not, in any way, decolonial. Instead, it was a group of mainly European-descendended colonizers fighting off the British government so they could take over (and intensify) the project of colonization. Indeed genocide and land-dispossession of Indigenous peoples accelerated during and after the Revolutionary War. If we were to decolonize our water systems (by incorporating Indigenous water knowledges and ontologies and following the other guidelines yall offer) would that "decolonization" further serve the colonial project? In places with ongoing colonization, is it possible to decolonize systems without actually decolonizing the land and its peoples? (Tuck & Yang, 2012 would say "no" to this latter question, i imagine).
I'd love to hear your thoughts about how your arguments could be extended into the current settler colonial context. Thanks again for writing this piece on this platform!
Aaron – thank you for reading our text and your insightful comments. You ask an important question, but can we decolonize the land and its people – especially in North America? More importantly will this radical decolonization process be a panacea for equity and justice? I feel Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice lays some ways to a step forward – that we need fundamental guiding principles of justice and institutions that will deliver on these, but also systems that will continuously critique and uphold these institutions to deliver. Or as Erik Swyngedouw (2009) quotes, we need to distinguish between the political adopting ‘equality as a principle’ and politics: ‘a refusal to observe the “place” allocated to people and things (or at least, to particular people and things)’. This blog is a small and imperfect first step in continuing to (refusing to be complicit) to highlight the plural ways in which science and colonialism intersect in relation especially to water.
In a nutshell: we learn that decolonizing the water agenda is to follow a Marxist (inspired) tradition of research and action (as the referenced authors indicate); a tradition as deeply rooted in European and western scholarly tradition as any. We don't learn why this is so and why the authors believe that this particular western export will do away with what they perceive to be a colonized agenda. Pardon, if I am not convinced but feel that most of the piece is trivial and what is not is mistaken.
Wouldn't "decolonizing the water agenda" first and foremost mean to become independent from the devil: both intellectually and financially? I believe so, and one trusts that IWMI took the authors plea forward in the recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (https://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/2023/06/iwmi-board-and-prime-minister-of-sri-lanka-discuss-opportunities-for-research-support/), convincing him that IWMI is the place to upscale the work of Mr Swyngedouw and other like-minded Marxist scholars, and secure financing. This should be easy enough, given the salvation this will bring to the masses and the freedom gained from the ills of western thought. The individual sacrifice in terms of benefit package associate with working in an international organization (funded from the generous daily rates international donors pay for the excellence at IWMI) should not be too big of a concern, for overcoming capitalism is a bigger price than minor individual inconveniences.
I take exception to both contributions of "Philippe" [who is otherwise anonymous]. The entire purpose of this Forum is to encourage discussion, which means expressing different views is exactly what we expect. In that sense, I thank Philippe for participating. While the authors of this blog may well be heavily influenced by Marxist thought, I think their view is much more fundamental. Rich donor countries along with international agencies (themselves financed by, and at least until recently, dominated by) people from the Global North, have been pushing concepts which appear to be very rational and reasonable but have proven not to fit well in the conditions in much of the Global South. The EU Water Framework, which Philippe references, is a good example, as is IWRM as articulated and driven from on high. We need a fundamentally different approach, one that is driven by local communities and priorities, including implementation and control.
As a former IWMI staff member, I also believe you have misrepresented IWMI. I recognize some of the blog authors are IWMI employees, but they are writing in their personal capacities, not IWMI. IWMI as an institution is certainly not "Marxist" or "anti-capitalist" even if some scientists may hold these views. And the visit with the Sri Lankan PM was clearly a courtesy visit, to raise the profile of IWMI in the country and thank the Sri Lankan government for its great support over the years. IWMI's work in Sri Lanka, as in all countries, is as a collaborator and supporter, helping the country to develop solutions appropriate to its needs.
First off: I have not mentioned the EU Water Framework (which was Shaminder, below). Surely there is lots to say about the EU Framework directive or any number of policy blueprints pushed on countries. But this was not my entry point.
I am not sure the authors had the EU water directive in mind either, when writing their contribution. But the question is: are those policy blueprints unfit because of being the product of a Eurocentric knowledge system? Clearly this seems what the authors mean by "the current hegemonic knowledge systems, ontologies and epistemologies [that] are underpinned by technocratic, capitalist, extractivist, and patriarchal systems"? If so, is it not at least curious that rather than providing potential sources of alternative non-european knowledge systems, decolonized knowledge systems, we are provided with references to two Marxist scholars, both of whom draw their arguments from 200 years of European debate. I find this inconsistent and not convincing, pardon me.
Good that you clarified that IWMI is not advocating Marxist scholarship or an anti-capitalist agenda in the country it operates in. I think no one would see IWMI that way. IWMI has become mostly a consultancy outfit and conducts applied research on issues that are of interest to those that commission the work. But should employees of IWMI (such as some of the authors) be surprised of that? Would decolonizing the water agenda not have to start outside of IWMI? I think they should neither be surprised and seek to decolonize the water agenda from outside of institutions funded by the "Global North". Otherwise they will remain frustrated, even if this is only in their "personal capacity".
Since you took issue with the my other comment, I take it that you believe that there is unidirectional mobility, as Lena Hommes says. Suffice to say, this is far from being a correct representation of the facts, as one can easily see from the UNESCO data base (my comment), or say by the recent UNESCO Higher Education Data Report (May 2022): slightly less than 50% of international mobile students are hosted by the US and Western Europe and the largest percentage of student by origin comes from East Asia and the Pacific (26%). Clearly there is still a tendency for students to choose western institutions, but the data clearly shows a picture that is far from unidirectional by any stretch of the imagination. Pardon, that I pointed this out, for facts matter to my euro-centric mind.
Philippe (Anonymous and in my personal capacity)
Dear Philippe you are absolutely right and touch the core of the challenge we are dealing with. We are all deeply complicit in the making and doing of colonial science, especially those who rely on still dominantly colonial flows of funds. And we certainly cannot make a judgement call that the Global South is more egalitarian, equitable and empathetic (Partha Chatterjee: Politics of the Governed; and so many fascinating texts by James C Scott – including the Moral Economy of the Peasant). However, who can speak for whom, how many of can claim that we are completely untainted and therefore eligible to speak? Manchester University where Swyngedouw teaches has only just acknowledged (as many other institutions – point made by Lena Hommes) on their implicitly colonial history. In sum, we do not undermine the compliance that pervades all systems and structures of science, our hope is that by raising issues like these, we can hopefully take small steps to a more open, inclusive and plural science.
I have to say that I sympathise with the conundrum of the authors - but their argument and pathway appear to me to be mis guided. First - why my sympathy? - Because all too often I have seen some pretty irrelevant ideas (from the global north) being thrust upon the unsuspecting recipients (in the global south - and not only...). Example? The much heralded EU Water Framework Directive. The provisins of this conceptual model only applies in countries with a huge abilty to spend (ie high GDP) - in less able countries (low GDP, insufficient institions, insufficient capacity) - these provisions are pointless ... as they can hardly be implmented. But I have seldom seen anyone have the audacity to inform the EU that these provisions do not make sense (eg in Sub Saharan Africa) - so lets modify a lot of this...
Another example? - the UN ECE Convention on transboundary waters - now being ceremoniously draped onto the governments officials in Africa. A Convention whose provisions again apply to the ECE region - but not relevant (in many of its parts) to the global south.
Second - the authors could have spent more time on analysising what exactly it is about the global north water agenda that needs to be amended to apply to the global south - bearing in mind that many over riding principles are the same - ie the calculation of a basin hydrological balance and related socio economics for the global north and south is the same - BUT the conclusions on what to do about ir are totally different.
With apologies to my many colleaguses in the global north if I have offended them - but I say the above without any disrespect!
Thanks Shaminder for your insightful engagement with our piece and for providing relevant examples about the power inequalities manifest in determining solutions to water issues globally. However, with regard to your argument about over-riding principles I would like to attempt some reflections. Throughout our early education in water science we were taught the water-cycle (a basic over-riding principle?). This simplistic understanding of water is contested when we consider that water does not circulate in a society-less world and instead this principle of hydrological cycle is often hindered, redirected, or intensified through a “hydrosocial cycle” (Linton and Budds 2014). Power inequalities, such as the ones you bring out in your examples between the global north and south, often determine where water flows, where it is stored, and where it is used, rather than by principles of basin hydrological balances and hydrological flows. The idea here is not to do away with the basic principles of hydrology but to nuance it and re-envision it. What we consider as “basic principle” or “underlying” is often determined by what we take as a “given”, “the unquestionnable reality”. And often this “unquestionnable reality” comes from assumptions that have been set in place by power structures that benefit from these assumptions. The idea of decolonising science is not undo it, but question its assumptions and create space for more ways of doing science.
This is true. You have rightly pointed out that many hydrological principles, equations, models etc in common practice in surface or ground water hydrology in South Asian contexts do not suit the realities. Because these principles or equations are developed in pristine catchments of the west. Perhaps we missed touching upon this but we also try and cover it in our first argument where we talk about dominant forms of doing water science need to be made more inclusive by integrating knowledge from other disciplines so it can enlighten us about what we are missing. Perhaps an additional point about doing grounded hydrology (field based, suiting the geographical contexts) could be one such example. In IYWN, we are working on a position paper on this which will follow this blogpost soon. Thanks
I don't want to get into a "colonization/decolonization" debate. It resembles a fight while we're talking about knowledge and science. Indeed, It is a sterile debate because no colonizers will admit their mistakes nor will the decolonized consent their submission.
To be clear, I would rather view it as:
- A lack of attitude: in the sense that colonizers' burgeoning imaginaries before decolonization were nurtured/implemented by local politicians, managers, developers...etc. after decolonization. Large scale irrigation schemes in the Maghreb geography are a good example.
- Lack of good sense/methodology: both colonizers and decolonized dealt in the same way with indigenous knowledge "exclusion". In the case of colonizers, they did it for profit monopoly while in the case of decolonized politicians/managers/developers ...etc, it was merely submission to western technology/science.
- Lack of education: here I join "Lena Hommes". We need universities, institutes, educational institutions teaching indigenous, resilient and sustainable water management techniques and subsequent sustainable agricultural models. For this however, we need a big deal of research and development, maybe a cross integration between indigenous knowledge and modern technology to come up with sustainable models of water and agriculture management adapted to different environmental, cultural, and economic contexts. We need to keep in mind the constraint that these models must feed a growing world population.
Finally, I have some reflections about the mentioned statement in "Reflections by young water researchers from the Global South": We propose that more global south researchers, field partners and members of the underrepresented communities become the first authors, project Principal Investigators and project leaders in large collaborative teams. To avoid Global North researchers continuing to propagate colonial legacies through field research focus on African, Asian, or Latin American landscapes, it is time that Global South researchers study systems in the Global North.
Instead of asking for rights, we need to employ research scientists in arid and semi-arid areas to deserts, to start developing new adapted knowledge, methodologies, techniques that prove successful in our respective areas. Only then we can ask to be leaders of our own research and science. Our prioritized research topics and local objectives will not be accomplished by others than local scientists.
Thank you for the valuable and insightful discussion.
I find it quite unfair, that so much criticism focusses on water scientists. It’s predominantly the water management institutions, that fail to learn and adapt their 100 year old practices. In my view, it’s they, rather than water scientists that succumb to seductive narratives and simplistic worldviews. Concerning Western knowledge systems, I dare say that they are not only inadequate for the Global South, but for the world we live in. The need to update these systems was clearly expressed in “Our Common Future”, and was later codified in Agenda 21. Although this agenda was unanimously accepted in Rio de Janeiro, most institutions have, as yet, failed to play by its rules. Kates* “Sustainability Science” is symptomatic to the feelings in many quarters. It essentially states that “Sustainable Development is something we have decided to work with, but we must, of course exclude the social and political aspects. Speaking of simplistic narratives, the World Bank IWRM formula is a case in point. This has been imposed on numerous developing countries. This makes me think of Philippe’s post of 25 June, where he refers to IWMI, and indicates that it would be very frustrating to try to decolonize the water agenda from outside of IWRM. I agree, and given that IWMI and the World Bank are bedfellows, I think that a necessary first step, should be a clean-up at it’s own doorstep. In the introductory blog, management solutions with a clear ideological basis, is mentioned with reference to Castree (2011). It points to the neoliberal agenda, and I am surprised that this particular phenomenon has not been discussed at all.
I echo your frustration, Peder. Therefore, I find it courageous of the authors to be self-reflective and bold here to call out the system while being in it. I do not know how else the system will clean itself up on it's own unless someone does this..