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Conflicts of interest hamper protection of water resources


Studies in Chile and Sweden show that conflicts among various water interests play a fully decisive role in how well countries protect their water resources. The consequence is that we can neither alleviate the environmental damage now affecting water resources nor solve the problems entailed by possible climatic change.

In his new doctoral dissertation, the political scientist Victor Galaz at Göteborg University in Sweden shows that conflicts among municipalities, industries, and environmental organizations lead to poor protection of Swedish water resources.

“If we are to be able to deal with the expected effects of climate change on the world’s water resources, we have to realize that water issues are far from purely technical or scientific matters. On the contrary, it’s about how we set up our policies and our institutions,” says Victor Galaz.

In Sweden this is to be seen in the fact that cooperative bodies charged with monitoring and protecting water resources work with prevention of water-related environmental problems only in exceptional cases. The study shows that players that do not have a direct interest in such work­-like municipalities with major environmental footprints and industries­-simply block efforts to create the collaboration needed to protect water resources from environmental damage.

Chile-­which carried out a radical privatization reform in the sphere of water in the 1980s-­is facing similar challenges. The dissertation shows that the negative effects of this reform for poor farmers are probably greater than international researchers and polemicists have previously appreciated. The reason for this is that the institutions that are supposed to support this market­like national authorities and the legal system­do not function in such a way as to capable of resolving water conflicts in a swift and predictable manner. The result is a system in which it is extremely easy to overrule the water rights of poor farmers.

The dissertation also shows that what determines whether water resources can be dealt with in an ecological and socially sustainable way is basically a matter of how society shapes its institutions­-in other words, the formal regulations and informal rules that govern the actions of those who utilize natural resources. However, these institutions are clearly not free of problems of allocation and conflicts of interest.

Eva Lundgren | alfa
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