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War and the Commons: Assessing the Changing Politics of Violence, Access and Entitlements in Sri Lanka

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Korf, Benedikt; Fünfgeld, Hartmut
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2348
Sector: Social Organization
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources--case studies
governance and politics
water resources
Abstract: "This paper investigates the impacts of political violence on access to local commons and looks at local contestsover resource entitlements under the condition of warfare and post-war transition in Sri Lanka. We map out two essential trajectories of refused and contested access to commons in the highly volatile institutional setting ofwar and post-war situations: On the one hand, the political geography of war and fighting creates 'no-go zones'. These often include local commons, such as jungle, lagoon and marine resources that become places ofincreased military contest. On the other hand, threats, intimidation and violence to admit or refuse access toresources for the 'ethnic other' is utilized as an essential instrument in the local contestations over ethnic identity, historical entitlements and discourses of spatial claims. In this volatile setup, social and politicalcapital play crucial, though highly ambiguous roles for accessing the commons, and they are subject to continuous value change, depending on the political developments of the conflict. We illustrate this dynamism using two case studies of local common-pool and open-access resource systems in the war-affected east of Sri Lanka. In the first case study, we describe local contests over water distribution in a large-scale irrigation scheme located in a multi-ethnic area. In this case, farmers utilize their hydraulic positions within the irrigationset-up for both, gaining material advantages (diverting more water for irrigation) and using water as a means of power against the 'ethnic other'. Spatial access to water and land may be actively denied by physicalviolence or discouraged by intimidation. In doing so, civilians are embedded in a complex clientele network with local political and military power holders. The second case study highlights issues of changing access rights and resource use patterns in a large lagoon ecosystem. Since the lagoon was part of a militarily contested terrain during times of war, this produced severe access restrictions and security problems for local customary resource users. When overt violence came to a halt with the signing of a ceasefire and access was open again, alarge number of customary and new users started exploiting lagoon resources, which led to increasing interandintra-community tension and resource overexploitation. Both case studies illustrate the volatile, polarised and hybrid nature of local institutions which produce a governance failure. These failed institutions undermine local peace building, because they feed back into existing political grievances."

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