There are many characteristics of developing world water projects which are reminiscent of the distribution philosophies of the early hydraulic civilisations; a principal difference may be summarised by the word ‘identity’. Modern schemes have tended to lack the identity of communal national effort which seemingly characterised earlier eras, partly because of marked regional disparities in technological expertise but mainly because of lack of popular national involvement. The strong social structures which upheld prehistoric irrigation economies are imitated by bureaucratic resettlement schemes and innovative, but rarely successful, land tenure arrangements.
At the end of the previous chapter we alluded to the habit of the developed world of transferring technologies which its own citizens had come to realise were outmoded physically or culturally, part of a global trade pattern which complicates all development issues. In addition we must face the fact that the power elites of the developing world are unlikely to be generous to the ecosystem concept of sustainable riverbasin development at a time when intensive exploitation of basin resources appears to be the most rapid route to a national trade surplus, wealth and political success. The spontaneous regulatory functions of the basin are understated without a proper investigation, which the urgency of development precludes for the elites. The indigenous peoples of the developing world have practised extensive exploitation for centuries, largely leaving the spontaneous regulators intact.
Rural communities in an urbanising nation have little incentive to bring forward their own water development schemes at a scale which could improve national economic performance; some form of imposition, if only of development alternatives by extension workers, is clearly inescapable. Equally clearly, indigenous people have both human rights and huge reserves of adaptive strategies involving local environmental management (see Section 5.7.2).