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The Fluid Mosaic: Water Governance in the Context of Variability, Uncertainty and Change

Authors: Marcus Moench; Ajaya Dixit; S. Janakarajan; M.S. Rathore; Srinivas Mudrakartha

The winter ice in streams fractures along razor sharp lines but when it melts, such lines lose meaning. The banks of the stream, the directions of flow and the fundamental processes governing that flow are far more important over the long term. So it is with most debates over water management. Debates fracture along lines of ideology or philosophy, casting local approaches in opposition to centralised ones, supply-side in contrast to demand-side, and regulatory in contrast to market. Far less concern focuses on the core questions of governance—how, by whom, and under what conditions different approaches are enabled or selected. These questions of governance are, however, central to addressing water problems in the current context where climatic, hydrologic and socio-economic conditions are subject to extreme variability and potentially fundamental change. This report summarises five years of collaborative investigation by Indian and Nepali researchers on water management needs and options in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and parts of Nepal. The sections focus on the specific water management issues and challenges in case study areas. The core messages, however, relate to the fluid mosaic of water governance—how society may be able to address the sharp edged, immediate constraints present at local levels and shaped by local conditions but ordered within a larger, changing, fluid and poorly understood picture.

Field research in case study areas was conducted by Nepal Water Conservation Foundation (NWCF, Kathmandu, Nepal), the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS, Chennai, Tamil Nadu), the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur (IDS, Jaipur, Rajasthan) and the Vikram Sarabhai Centre for Development Interaction (VIKSAT, Ahmedabad, Gujarat). The Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET, Boulder, Colorado) coordinated and supported the project. Much of the research—along with publication of this document—was supported by the International Development Research Centre of Canada. Additional support for portions of the research came from the Ford Foundation.

Citation: Moench, M., Dixit, A., Janakarajan, S., Rathore, M.S., & Mudrakartha, S. (2003). The fluid mosaic: Water governance in the context of variability, uncertainty and change. Kathmandu, Nepal: Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, & Institute for Social and Environmental Transition.

Funded By: International Development Research Centre (IDRC); Ford Foundation