Water Management and the Poor: Organizing to (Re)Gain Access to Water in the Nicaraguan Hillsides

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"Many rural areas increasingly constitute the arena for increased competition for water, not only between different users within the locality, but also between internal versus external users. In hillside areas, water is important not only for household consumption but also for productive purposes. Even where formal irrigation systems do not exist, the ability to water crops significantly improves peoples livelihoods. Evidence from many parts of the world, however, suggests that the poor are gradually losing their access to water. Based on research conducted in the Nicaraguan hillsides, this paper illustrates the processes through which access to water is lost by some while gained by others as well as some of the issues involved in water management. The paper shows how everyday water management takes place in the context of complex and often conflictive social relations at multiple and often overlapping levels. Combined, these two features make it hard to imagine that efforts to design a single river basin or watershed institution charged with representing and negotiating different interests relating to water management can succeed and become effective. The examples from the Nicaraguan hillsides, however, elude us to a possible alternative. In their attempts to gain and secure access to water, new organizational practices are emerging which transcend the local as well as the static, and increasingly seek to involve and engage district and national authorities in supporting their claims and adopting a stronger, but negotiated, role in regulation and arbitration. Therefore, instead of focusing on the crafting of neatly nested water management institutions, this paper argues in favour of supporting the development of an enabling institutional environment which focuses upon making relevant hydrological assessments widely available; broad-based and inclusive public hearing processes; enhancing the legal capacity, particularly among the poor; and last, but not least upon making dispute resolution mechanisms, such as a water <i>ombudsman</i>, widely available and accessible, also to the poor, to provide help in settling conflicts caused by competing water management claims as well as by conflicting claims of users and water management institutions."



IASC, water resources, access, resource management, poverty, irrigation, social organization, governance and politics