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From Hydro-Hegemony to Water Justice?

ThinkBrigade’s Hussam Hussein reports from the Sixth International Workshop on Hydro-Hegemony that took place at the University of East Anglia‘s London campus in January 2013.

This year’s topic was “Transboundary Water Justice.” In the past, the focus was mainly on trans-boundary water management, the role of power asymmetries, and co-existence of conflict and cooperation. This year, the organisers tried to go one step further, adding justice and water to the agenda.

The participants, including academics and activists, discussed in depth how to define justice, and water justice in particular. During the opening session, Tony Allan, Mark Zeitoun, Naho Mirumachi, and Karis McLaughlin reviewed academic and activist work in hydro-hegemony and justice. Thomas Sikor, Adrian Martin, Michael Mason, and Clemens Messerschmid investigated multiple, and sometimes contradicting, understandings of justice, power asymmetry, and its outcomes.

Dr Mark Zeitoun – from the UEA Water Security Research Centre - began the workshop encouraging participants to consider hydro-politics: “who decides who gets what, when, how, and why in water resources (after Lasswell).”

While it is quite easy to identify an unjust situation, it’s much more difficult to say what the correct and just allocation of water resources should be. And is justice only about allocation? Whose justice prevails?

However, it has been underlined that not agreeing on what exactly justice is should not prevent people from working towards it. As Clemens Messerschid put it, “Should people fight against injustice or for justice?”

Ana Cascao.

Ana Cascao from the Stockholm International Water Institute challenged “cooperation” that resulted in conflict avoidance rather than confrontation and eventual solution.

“Climate change is becoming a top priority for donors: are we going towards an ideational power?” Cascao said.

Often, cooperation is seen by international organisations as something positive and worth working towards because it helps avoid conflict.

However, Dr Naho Mirumachi of Kings College London said that cooperation and conflict are not exclusive, they co-exist: cooperation is often used to maintain the status quo, thus leading to cooperation being used to simply manage a conflict situation instead of resolving it. Dr Mirumachi’s session asked: Who decides fairness? Is all cooperation good? What do we do when cooperation is ugly?

Naho Mirumachi

Dr Naho Mirumachi.

As Dr Jan Selby from the University of Sussex wrote in 2003, “Domination can be wrapped up as cooperation.”

Virtual water – the amount of water required to produce any goods or services – was also discussed at the event. Tony Allan suggested how political economy could peacefully solve water scarcity problems in semi-arid regions. A water-scarce country can import virtual water (mainly agricultural products) instead of using their own water resources, thus saving water for domestic usage. “Who gives us a right to eat other people’s water?”, asked Francesco Greco talking of virtual water and international law.


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About The Author(s)



Hussam Hussein

Hussam Hussein

Researcher / Journalist

Working experience from the European Parliament and the Italian Embassy in Amman, Hussam has also been working for the World Bank, in Washington DC. After his studies in international relations at the University of Trieste (Gorizia), at SOAS, and at the College of Europe, Hussam is currently a PhD student at the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. He developed his reporting skills with Th!nk About It 3, 4, and 5 and participating in a reporting trip in Kenya. His interests are water, climate change, and private sector development.

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