Chapter 7 - Sustainable Solutions for Water Resources

Part 7 - Water Competition

Competing for Water - when more water leads to conflict

Making more water available, for example through the construction of public boreholes and pumps to bring out ground water, can make a big difference to people living in rural areas in developing countries. This is so not only to the poor who in many places lack reliable supplies drinking water, but also to the better-off who may become able to water bigger herds of cattle and bigger gardens. Therefore, competition for water often intensifies when more water becomes available.

With illustrations from Namwala district in Zambia, the video shows that it is often local power relations – rather than the need for water – that determine who get access and draw benefits when more water is made available. In rural areas, water will always be used for multiple purposes. Clear rules that assign priority to domestic use over productive use of water is an important step to prevent the poor from losing out when more water is made available through new public infrastructure.

However, rules may be broken. When that happens, there is a need for independent mediating institutions which people who have their rights to water denied, can access. The design and establishment of such institutions is a challenge which future efforts to ensure pro-poor water governance will have to address.


Competing for Water - when new powerful users emerge

In many parts of the world, the advent of new – and often powerful – water users into a rural area radically changes the level of competition for water.

Based on the case of lead mining in the Con Cuong district in Vietnam, this video report provides an example of what may happen when new water users arrive. It illustrates that those who make the decision to allow new water users to start operating tend to be different from those who bear the costs of the new type of competition which emerge in the wake of the advent of new users.


Competing for Water - the challenge of local water governance

In many countries, it is the task of district and other local authorities to authorise and monitor use of water for small-scale irrigation (e.g. a couple of hectares or less) and ensure that small scale irrigation does not conflict with leaving enough water for human and animal consumption. The video, examining a case of water-use conflict in the Condega district in Nicaragua, illustrates the magnitude and complexity of this task – a task and a level of water governance which is often grossly neglected in efforts to improve water governance. The role of local governance and governmental authority in water competition is explored.


Suggested Reading

  1. The challenges of local water governance – the extent, nature and intensity of water-related conflict and cooperation”. Ravnborg, H.M.; Bustamante, R.; Cissé, A.; Cold-Ravnkilde, S.M.; Cossio, V.; Djiré, M.; Funder, M.; Gómez, L.I.; Le, P.; Mweemba, C.; Nyambe, I.; Paz, T.; Pham, H.; Rivas, R.; Skielboe, T. and Yen, N.T.B.  In Press. Water Policy. DOIi:10.2166/wp.2011.097
  2. International water conflict and cooperation:
    challenges and opportunities
    . Jacob D. Petersen-Perlman, Jennifer C. Veilleux & Aaron T. Wolf(2017): Water International. , DOI: 10.1080/02508060.2017.1276041


The films are produced by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS). The Competing for Water programme was a collaborative research programme which has documented the extent, intensity and nature of water-related conflict and cooperation occurring over a 10-year period in one district in each of the following countries: Bolivia, Mali, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Zambia. The programme is coordinated by Helle Munk Ravnborg and has been funded by the Danish Council for Development Research. Sten Rehder is a social anthropologist and documentary producer/director with extended broadcast experience. Focusing on scientific and social issues as well as marketing videos for third world producers partly on charity basis, Mr. Rehder has multicultural international film experience from Africa, Asia, North-Central and South America.


(Photo credits: Sten Rehder, 2010/2011. Film introductions from the Competing for Water program)