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Assessing Water Tenure Security in Highland Watersheds: A Case Study from Northern Thailand

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Sangkapitux, Chapika; Neef, Andreas; Nunthasen, Ke; Yothapakdee, Theeka
Conference: Survival of the Commons: Mounting Challenges and New Realities, the Eleventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Conf. Date: June 19-23, 2006
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/688
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): IASC
riparian rights
Abstract: "Water is a major and vital resource for household consumption and agriculture in highland watershed areas of northern Thailand. Concurrently, water is also used by mid- and downstream communities. Water scarcity and high demand during the dry season has triggered controversies over water use among relevant stakeholders. In general, water is perceived as a common-pool resource which can be accessed freely within a given geographical area. In fact, private, communal, state and open access rights are interacting in both complementary and conflicting ways. This study aims to analyze the complexity of water rights and the correlation of water and land rights, as well as to assess water security and livelihoods of the highlanders in this watershed. The watershed is characterized by an increased competition between upstream and downstream communities for irrigation water, while household/drinking water is still considered relatively secure. "Given the complexity of water resource tenure and management in Mae Sa Watershed and the importance of irrigation water, our study approached this issue in the form of 'Water Security'. A composite Water Security Index (WSI) was developed along three dimensions, namely (1) diversity of available water sources, (2) access to those sources expressed in percentage of irrigated land and (3) risks of conflicts and water scarcity. The assessment based on primary data from a representative survey of 240 farm households in eight villages conducted in 2004/2005 showed that the water security of the upstream communities was significantly lower than that of the downstream communities in all respects. Within the communities, the farm households were subdivided into two groups on the basis of the water security index. The assessment of farmers' livelihoods under different contexts of water security revealed that the group of farmers with high water security generated higher income than that with low water security. In addition, members of the group with high water security tended to hold higher social positions than those in the group with low water security, due to the positive influence of social status on water security. The risk assessment disclosed that the group with low water security encountered higher environmental risks than the group with high water security, due to total dependency on rainwater and the related high risk of drought situations. Due to intensive dependency on external production factors, the groups with high water security in upstream communities faced much higher risks than the groups with low water security. Another result of the study was that water rights reflecting water security were found to be positively correlated with secure land rights. "Our results provide evidence against the general perceptions among lowland people and policy-makers that upstream communities enjoy an abundance of water resources and have full access to water as compared to the downstream communities. Another stereotype is that upstream communities are the culprits of water scarcity and other negative externalities felt by downstream populations. Our study suggests that these perceptions need to be revised and that related policy planning should incorporate water security aspects."

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