Panel Property Rights Regimes in the Theory and Practice of the Commons: Theory, Policy and Practice of Water Rights in Africa

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"By examining practice and policy of water property regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa, this paper explores whether and which theoretical approaches to the Commons can provide answers to burning policy questions with regard to formal water legislation. This is examined in the light of the practice that millions of small-scale water users in rural and peri-urban areas directly and typically informally abstract water for basic livelihoods under or just above poverty lines. These agrarian societies depend in many ways on water for cropping, horticulture, tree growing, livestock, fisheries, crafts, small-scale enterprise, and ceremonial uses. Since time immemorial, they have invested themselves, and later sometimes supported by the state or NGOs, in water infrastructure for higher productivity during a longer time of the year, more resilience to climate variability and change and protection against inundation. Customary, informal, or local ‘living laws’ (terms that are used interchangeably in this paper) govern these investments, their uses, sharing of benefits, and dispute resolution. Prevailing concepts are about respecting and protecting people’s efforts to feed their families, and the search for win-win arrangements that maintain and even strengthen vital networks of kin and neighbours. This also holds for upstream-downstream issues within manageable distances and networks."