Beahrs ELP Blog

Decentralisation key to ending water wars

by Nujpanit Narkpitaks (ELP 2011), Thailand

This article was originally published on Bangkok Post.
Read the original article.

Water is the lifeblood of agriculture. It has significant impacts on the livelihood of millions of Thai farmers. Early on in rainy season this year, farmers in the Central Plains suffered from one of the most intense droughts in the last five decades. Evidence shows that this year is one of the lowest rainfall years since 1970 due to the effects of El Nino. Apart from the devastating floods of 2011, this drought is another wake-up call for Thailand to take a more serious step toward an effective and sustainable water management system.

Normally, wet season rice crops rely primarily on rainfall, but with severe rainfall shortages this year, farmers had to turn to irrigated water which was in extremely limited supply. The situation worsened when the two largest reservoirs in the North (the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams) hit their second lowest water levels in the last 45 years, putting millions of rai of rice plantations at serious risk.

To quickly respond to the drought impacts, the government launched several temporary relief measures and initiated some medium-and long-term projects, but like previous administrations, the emphasis is being put on the structural aspect of water management.

In addition to Mother Nature, another main factor causing this critical drought situation was the poor management of irrigated water during the past three years. After the 2011 floods, water from key reservoirs was discharged excessively due to politicians’ flood phobia and the controversial paddy pledging policy was implemented, resulting in a surge in rice production and excessive use of irrigated water between 2012 and 2014.

Water management in the Chao Phraya River basin has been quite problematic. Surface water is scarce, yet considered an open access resource as agricultural water uses are almost free of charge. This led to excessive use of irrigated water.

With limited surface water supply, increases in water demand due to rapid economic development and urbanisation along the Chao Phraya River have caused many conflicts among water users in different areas.

Also, the current centralised water management system has shown numerous weaknesses. The water allocation processes are prone to political intervention and considered unfair and inefficient. Farmers can usually obtain more water by lobbying politicians in their provinces and it is impossible for the central government officers to monitor and prevent water theft.

Experience in some developed countries prove that water management decentralisation is the key to solving these problems.

Thailand has started building stepping stones toward a decentralised system but this has not yielded a definitive result. The first attempt was when the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) created 50,000 water user groups. A TDRI survey of water users shows that some of these groups can efficiently manage the scarce common resource by themselves, creating a more equitable, stable and adequate water supply for farmers’ crops.

Conflicts among farmers have been reduced and some groups have made the collective decision not to grow rice when there is drought to save enough water for the next crop season.

Yet the roles of these water user groups are still limited because they are not legally recognised and entitled to state funds. Their real function continues to focus primarily on water allocation management in their areas as waste water and flood management are fragmented in the hands of the local governments and some central government agencies. Moreover, water user groups have never formed a network to work with groups in other provinces along the same river basin.

The second attempt was when the river basin committees were established by the Department of Water Resource in 1998. But so far, the committees have not played any active role in shaping water management policy.

If the government is serious about water management reform, it has to urgently pass the water resource law which will vest power and assign legal functions to the water user groups and river basin committees. Above all, the committees must consist of water user groups’ representatives from both upstream and downstream of the same river basin to ensure participatory decision-making. This will essentially fill in the missing links in water management decentralisation efforts.

Water management is 95% practice and 5% theory, so it will work if, and only if, water users in the same river basin are given forums to work together to come up with productive collective actions. The goal towards sustainable and equitable decentralised water management will take years or decades to reach. That is why we need to begin our journey now.

Companies, communities and NGOs define a new trade Market for Amazon products

by Helga Yamaki (ELP 2013), Brazil

The companies that want to fill up their products with oils, nuts, native essences from the Amazon, will need to create a dialogue with the extractivist communities, quilombolas and small producers of the region. Having accumulated knowledge on how to extract valuable raw material in a way that don’t degrade the forest, the supplier communities enter a new era of relationships with the industry.

Supported by the NGO, the traditional communities that survive from the sustainable use of the Amazon biodiversity, established the base line for trading of NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Products). The Community Protocol was launched on December 4th at Alter do Chão, Pará state, during the seminar on “Dialogues about Agroecology and Ethical Trade in the Amazon”.

Community representatives, partners and speakers in the Seminar at Alter do Cháo.

Community representatives, partners and speakers in the Seminar at Alter do Cháo.

The Forest of Value Project, is an initiative of Imaflora – Institute of Management and Agriculture and Forest Certification, that has a goal to conserve the Amazon forest through the strengthening of sustainable supply chain of NTFP and the dissemination of agroecology.

This Project is developed in three different territories of traditional communities and small holders in the country side of the state of Pará: Calha Norte of the Amazonas River, São Félix do Xingu and Terra do Meio regions. The project helps to establish paths to a new economy which keeps the forest standing and on its traditional ways of life, maintaining its most important value.

Our main focus is at the end of this chain, but we have partners such as ISA – Socio environmental Institute and ICMBio – Public sector responsible for these Protect Areas, that work along the chain.

To create a network between companies and communities, guide lines were created in order to develop a Community Protocol. This protocol emerged from negotiations between companies and communities from the State of Pará, taking into consideration their needs and rules.

The development of this Community Protocol aimed to diffuse the idea and allow it to be used in different communities from Pará and other Amazon communities.

To get to know more about the Community Protocol – companies and communities establishing new ways of trading protocol, click here:

This video represents part of our learning process at Imaflora and part of my work, where I have worked for the past 6 years.

yamaki2Through this video, we hope to stimulate the dialogue between traditional communities and companies, aiming to promote a differentiated trade market that contributes with the biodiversity conservation, that respects traditional communities ways of life and that follows ethical trading principals.

My Impressions of the ELP

by Linh Huong Dang, Vietnam, ELP 2015
Written on August 1, 2015.

Finally I made it to the United States where, to me, it is supposed to be a pinky one. However, to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed on the way from San Francisco International airport to Berkeley. The taxi drove me by some gloomy resident areas. The reality was far different from what I had in mind. The disappointment went away as soon as I entered the “Bear territory” – I could feel a friendly, open, and academic atmosphere. The first day went by with a mixed feeling about a new country and the people here.

Second impression – the country of immigration. From Foothill to the campus, I saw people from all over the world. No matter where they were from and how long they have been living in this country, opportunities were there for people to take. All of the ELP staff were originally from different parts of the world, some respectful and distinguished professors also came from other countries. They made themselves in the country by their efforts and talents, and for that, I admired them. I was fortunate to have a chance to expose myself to other educational systems, but for the very first time in my life, I was deeply impressed by the way people could make the change here. They made me feel I was part of the team even though we all met each other for the first time.

Third impression – good story. Everybody I met here has a story. And some of the stories made me cry. I could not forget the the moment I had to control myself for not bursting into tears in front of people when listening to an inspiring, motivated, and brave story from one of my classmates – her own life. I also remembered the minute I couldn’t help but cry when I had a chance to express my gratefulness to one of the professors who was a silent sponsor to help me attend the course. In ELP, you are encouraged to tell your story and listen to the others. It is the shortest way for you to reveal yourself, reach out to embrace, and learn from others – learning is sharing. Stories make people get closer to each other. No matter who you are or where you are from, true stories come from within with full emotional, touching, and inspiring thoughts that connect people.

Fourth impression – field trips. ELP offers you not only the academic knowledge but also the practical and fun experience. From Redwood forests to Point Reyes, from Urban Agriculture to Salinas Valley, you have chances to experience the conservation and agriculture work on the ground in the country. Believe me, they are so much different from what you have already known. And if you are lucky enough (like me), you will see elk in the wild.

There are so many things I would like to say about the amazing three-week course with ELP where my expectations came true. Go to the ELP, go to UC Berkeley to experience it yourselves, and I am sure you will love it all. And last but not least, by attending the ELP, you will have a chance to meet the most talented participants from around the world who you will never forget in your life.

Rivers for Life

by Gabriela Ponce Guerrero, Ecuador (in Switzerland), ELP 2015
Written on July 18, 2015.

One of the lectures I enjoyed the most was the one given by Professor Vincent Resh on water and environmental leadership. I consider managing freshwater resources to be one of the most vital, not only environmental, but also social problems we are currently facing. I have had the opportunity to research the impacts of river regulation and fragmentation on the ecological integrity on riverine ecosystems. Despite being familiar with many of the concepts presented, I found it fascinating to hear more about the biological components. Once you understand that leaves are the main energy source in rivers, you realize how important it is to protect the riparian vegetation. After briefly going through some of the science behind the differences between rivers and lakes, Professor Resh shared some of the principles necessary for a community based water management: (1) having a “shared vision of a community’s water future”; (2) putting limits on water consumption; (3) allocating specific amounts to each use; (4) investing in water conservation to its maximum potential. We also had a lively discussion around the principles based on the challenges and insights some of the participants have encountered in their carriers or studies. Building on that, I would like to share some of my thoughts on freshwater management.

Impacts on the world’s large river systems due to fragmentation and regulation by dams [Nilsson et al., 2005]. Source: GWSP Digital Water Atlas (2008). Map 25: River Fragmentation by Dams.

Impacts on the world’s large river systems due to fragmentation and regulation by dams [Nilsson et al., 2005]. Source: GWSP Digital Water Atlas (2008). Map 25: River Fragmentation by Dams.

Rivers have been extensively altered to support economic and social development. Modifying rivers has provided benefits such as reliable water supply, reducing flood hazards, and generating hydroelectric power. Environmental and social implications were often not taken into consideration during planning and construction phases, causing the displacement of 40 to 80 million people worldwide and leading to significant degradation and loss of species and ecosystems. Furthermore, there are major challenges river scientists will have to face like adapting the science and practice of water management to climate change and its consequences. Moreover, growing population will result in higher pressure on water resources. It is crucial to recognize the water needs of riverine ecosystems themselves. Failing to see rivers as legitimate water, users could undermine their integrity leading to their deterioration which will result in rivers being unable to provide their multiple ecosystem services. It has been suggested that one of the most effective ways of tacking these challenges is to restore rivers, since healthy rivers are naturally more resilient to change.

Copyright © 2020 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. | Website by Computer Courage | Sitemap