Academic journal article Human Organization

Forced Engagements: Water Security and Local Rights Formalization in Yanque, Colca Valley, Peru

Academic journal article Human Organization

Forced Engagements: Water Security and Local Rights Formalization in Yanque, Colca Valley, Peru

Article excerpt


In many countries around the world, food security importantly builds on smallholders' irrigation practices and production systems. Nevertheless, the water insecurity these smallholder groups face in a globalizing society is ever growing. In most cases, it is not the absolute availability of water that explains why marginalized communities and families have insufficient, insecure access to the resource and its benefit streams. Instead, there is growing awareness that water scarcity and insecurity for large groups in society reflect unequal distribution of water volumes, quality, and services, resulting from unequal power structures (e.g., Martinez-Alier 2002; Soussan 2004; Swyngedouw 2005). As the United Nations Human Development Report (UNDP 2006) emphasizes, the water crisis is not the result of scarcity but of poverty, power, and inequality.

Consequently, the notion of water security is necessarily a political dilemma and requires politicization. In general terms, water security refers to people's and ecosystems' secure, sustainable access to water, including equitable distribution of advantages/disadvantages related to water use, safeguarding against water-based threats, and ways of sharing decision-making power in water governance. However, once "water security" is incorporated in national laws, development strategies or policy documents, it is often profoundly depoliticized-suggesting that techno-rationalized and managerial solutions can solve water scarcity issues, whereby all benefit equally. At the same time, the concept of water security tends to be naturalized. Rather than acknowledging that water security and distribution questions are part and parcel of the realm of human interests, intervention, and power plays, they are portrayed as issues that follow universal economic, legal, and natural-scientific rules and for which "naturally best, objective answers" are available (Boelens and Vos 2012).

In direct relation to this, there is a widespread assumption in policymaking that formalizing water rights is the key to increasing water security for local user groups-as also attested by international financing institutions' worldwide support for numerous water rights formalization programs (e.g., Soussan 2004; World Bank 2012). One enduring supposition of modemist water policy programs is that standardized rulemaking will benefit all and produce efficient rights, mutually beneficial exchange, and rational organization. This is also central to the thrust for legal modernization (Assies 2009). Hernando de Soto, the influential Peruvian World Bank policy scholar, for example, explains that the lack of such universal norms in "closed" countries in the South is the main reason they cannot fully enter the world system of capitalist exchange. Thus, the civilizing mission of the academic community would be "to help governments in developing countries build formal property systems that embrace all their people" (De Soto 2000:180).'

This paper examines how Peru's water legislation follows this drive for modernization and formalization. The General Water Law of 1969 (amended by later decrees and the 2009 Water Resources Law) established a hierarchical administrative structure, formalizing water allocation and distribution modes.2 By 2004, however, only 9,700 water licenses had been granted, quite a low number considering an estimated one million Peruvian water users (Guerrero 2006). That same year, the Program to Formalize Water Use Rights (Programa de Formalización de Derechos de Uso de Agua or PROFODUA) was established to foster the process. Whereas PROFODUA concentrated its work on the Peruvian Coast, mainly farmed by large-scale export oriented companies, in 2006 it started to grant formal water rights in the Andean highland regions (Hendriks 2010; Vera-Delgado 2011).

As exemplified by this paper's case study in Yanque, in the Coica Valley, numerous user communities in the Andes have a broader view of "water rights" and "legitimate water authority" than notions that are grounded in State law alone. …

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