Forestalling Water Wars: Returning to Our (Grass) Roots


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Forestalling Water Wars: Returning to Our (Grass) Roots


Joe Parker


Paper prepared for the O. Hatfield School of Government, College of Urban & Public Affairs, Portland State University.


June 2006


This paper addresses potentially violent conflict over our water rights—inherent individual and communal rights that are being eroded by a recent trend to privatize water resources. Loss of rights to water destabilizes civil society. With peace building in mind, I propose that structured public participation in civil society is fundamental to assuring each person’s right to enough water to sustain life. Such a right does not, de facto, provide any means for obtaining water; assurances are ever under threat from those driven by power and greed, or who simply shirk their sociopolitical responsibilities. This paper leans away from deceptive, manipulative practices seen in privatizing business practices and inclines towards responsible, responsive and, above all, inclusive governance.

Countering privatizing forces are local communities ready to fight for their rights. I look at what is happening to obviate such rights, at who seeks privatization, and why; I also glance at a examples around our world, but especially at the situation in Latin America, including a case study covering Bolivia’s Water War of a few years back. It will become obvious that with regard to water resources and management, top-down governance must yield to bottom-up input from local society. A grassroots, or community-based agenda acknowledges basic rights and allows for the means to fairly value both water and how it is to be used. Valuation entails community-managed monitoring, which facilitates infrastructure planning and management, and it requires international support. Vitally important is transparent governance on which civil society thrives. When candid, diligent and effective management of water is missing, issues of water shortage can quickly transform into violent confrontation over basic human rights.

 Parker 2006.pdf

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