Sub-theme 6. The drama of the grabbed commons
Grabbing the Freshwater Commons: Mechanisms, Discourses, Resistance
Globally, pressure on freshwater resources is increasing as a result of such factors as rising food demand, changes from plant-based to meat-based diets, hydro-energy expansion, and the enhancement of biofuel production. Rapidly accelerating climatic changes that cause higher frequency and intensity of droughts in many world regions are adding to this pressure. While land grabbing for food, fuel and fibre has often been associated with the appropriation and privatization of freshwater resources (both surface and groundwater), multi-national corporations are also constantly seeking new sources for their bottled water operations. Tourism development can also grab water supplies, particularly in island and coastal regions, through diverting scarce resources from marginalized local users to an industry dominated by foreign interests. Overlapping water tenure regimes and lack of effective governance mechanism for fluid and often unpredictable freshwater resources enable water grabbing by foreign investors and domestic elites, particularly in the global South. This panel invites contributions that look at challenges and solutions to freshwater grabbing through multiple lenses, such as political ecology, polycentric governance, critical discourse analysis, human rights, community responses, and gender.
1. Grabbing the wetland commons in Bangladesh through fisheries co-management
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
In many countries of the Global South, co-management has been introduced within fisheries to improve the resource management and the livelihoods of the resource users. However, it has been reported that co-management is highly vulnerable to elite capture. Existing literature has identified mechanisms elites employ to capture committee structures, resources and benefits, include force, financial misappropriation, manipulation and, general malpractices. This research identified hidden strategies elites use to grab wetland fisheries through capturing fisheries co-management. Two donor-funded fisheries co-management projects in Bangladesh were investigated, with qualitative data collected through key informant interviews and observation. This study found that the Panchayat (village organization) and Murubbis (senior non-fisherfolk males), the elite in the studied areas, shape the community-based structures by using rules and practices from the Panchayat. This reshaping of structures and processes enabled elites to control decisions related to fisheries co-management activities. Strategies elites took include: controlling the process of consultation in the decision-making arena; sanctuary management through trusted committee members; maintaining networks of elites; introducing lease rules for floating-lease waterbodies; providing enforcement-related support; and making rules of credit-distribution. Though there are specific grounds for developing strategies and rules the real motivation of the elite is different, often hidden, to maintain their pre-existing control over resources and capture the benefit. This research demonstrated that power of the elite can be hidden within the strategies, and rules, using co-management to grab access to and benefits from wetland fisheries.
2. Cinematic flow of the Sabarmati River: A Benjaminian interpretation of water grabbing and ecological impact
1Lyon Collegen Batesville, Arkansas, USA, 2Environmental Design Consultants Ahmedabad, India
Most commons (especially urban) are often raided by political and economic agendas. This paper focuses on a highly influential infrastructure project in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in India—the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project (SRFDP) and leverages the work of the renowned cultural critic and philosopher, Walter Benjamin, to help illuminate how the seizing of freshwater was both legitimized and normalized. The working objective of the paper is to understand the social-ecological process of the political economy of the (part of a) river as an infrastructure resource and the philosophical objective is to ferret out the real motivation for the project. From Benjaminian interpretation/analysis, the study finds the SRFD as a “dream house of commodity fetishism” like the Haussmannization of Parisian arcades. Since, while the recreational opportunities and cleaner municipal water were two of the key objectives touted in the project, it is a potent symbol for the campaign to attract capital and to provide markets for the industries of a “Vibrant Gujarat,” part and parcel of current Prime Minister’s neo-liberal, reform-driven economic development plan that began since his Chief Ministership of the state. The SRFDP’s transformation into an elaborately engineered water infrastructure full and flowing year-round from its traditional natural perennial river drying in summer and rejuvenating in the monsoon can also be referred to Benjamin’s writings on modern technologies of reproduction. The SRFDP’s fanciful reproduction of the original river, a mere simulacrum, conceals the water’s true origins (and, thus, its highly questionable appropriation) and inflicts ecological damage in the process besides raising more social conflicts of exclusion by caste, class and creed.
3. Freshwater Grabbing by the Tourism Sector: A Global Review
The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Tourism is often depicted as the feel-good industry, a sector that promotes sustainable development, contributes to peace and stability, and helps preserve natural resources. This view obscures how tourism can be a highly extractive industry, predominantly in countries of the Global South. Tourism infrastructure often grabs water supplies, particularly in island and coastal regions, through diverting scarce resources from marginalized local users to an industry dominated by foreign interests. This process is enabled by water tenure regimes that favour corporate actors and domestic elites, and a lack of effective governance mechanism for fluid and often unpredictable freshwater resources. Employing a political ecology lens and a human rights perspective, this presentation will provide a global review of freshwater grabbing by the tourism sector, with illustrative examples from Indonesia, Mexico and Tanzania.
4. Political Ecology of Wetland Conservation in India
Department of Social Work, Central University of Tamil, India
Wetlands are dynamic socio-ecological systems that ensure water and food security, biodiversity, micro-climate regulation, and livelihood security of the traditional communities. Indiscriminate industrial and infrastructural expansion in post-colonial India is inconsiderate of the wetland ecosystem services contributing to extensive deterioration of the wetlands. Dominant development discourses by the neoliberal State normalised commodification, privatisation, and new enclosures of wetlands, using the eminent domain of public purpose as a legitimating tool for appropriation. The concept of Accumulation by Dispossession by Harvey well captures the collective dispossession of wetlands as a Common Property Resource, characterised by displacement, loss of livelihood, altered food systems, community conflicts, decline of cultural identities, and ecological imbalance. Exploring the historicity of wetland ecology is of utmost significance in the current era of global and micro-climate change, with spiralling climate-induced natural disasters like floods and droughts, a rise in climate refugees, and the burgeoning rural-urban migration. Geo-politics surrounding wetland conversion and its linkage with development sustainability warrants critical debates and collective decision-making but is usually met with political silence, as reflected in the dilution of wetland policy and flaws in practice. In this context, the paper through a systematic literature review undertakes a critical and intersectional enquiry of the ecological history of wetlands, development practices and socio-ecological vulnerabilities surrounding wetlands, forms of wetland governance, and multi-stakeholder interactions in wetland policy formulation and practice in India.