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Irrigation and Water Policies in the Mekong Region Current Discourses and Practices

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Molle, François
Date: 2005
Agency: International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo, Sri Lanka
Series: IWMI Research Report no. 95
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3707
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): water resources--policy
river basins
Mekong River region
Abstract: "In the past several years, water has moved up on the agenda of most Mekong region countries. This is due to recurring water shortages and crises, to global initiatives and networking giving greater public salience to water issues, and to the persuasive insistence from development banks pushing for reform of national water sectors. "This report documents current irrigation and water policies in countries of the Mekong region. It successively reviews planning issues, water policies and legal frameworks, the setting up of water policy 'apex bodies,' participatory policies, and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM)/river basin management. It comments on the underpinning of these policies, their discursive dimension, and how they fit the reality of the countries concerned. The review shows that most ongoing and planned reforms borrow from 'best practices' alleged in international standards and are insufficiently informed by local realities. Planning of water resource development and policies is still widely expert-driven and focused on procedures and objectives, leaving little space for the confrontation of values and for more endogenous negotiated process of decision making. The report shows that despite encouraging changes and trends, there is still a significant gap between the rhetoric of participation or IWRM and reality on the ground. Debates between stakeholders such as line agencies, politicians, development banks, NGOs, consultants or user associations are sometimes lively but often limited to discursive struggles through the media or publications. Many large-scale projects with potential impact on large populations are still designed with little scrutiny, if not in secrecy. "Tensions between local management and the necessity to integrate uses at the basin level, contradictions between top-down blueprint-based state policies, the diversity/complexity of local settings, conflicts between recommendations or 'best practices' drawn from global 'toolboxes' and stakeholders' aspirations are pervasive. Enabling governance structures for water management in the Mekong region will be a journey towards bridging these divides. The report is intended to pave the way for further research on water governance in the Mekong region and to flag some major issues and topics for research."

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