Equitable control

Institutional solutions to sustainable groundwater management that have a chance to work may pose complex issues of equity and political economy. Some of these became evident in the tiny and experimental World Bank-supported Taiz project in the Habir aquifer of Yemen with the objective to develop a partnership between rural and urban groundwater users to transfer water from the countryside to a town on equitable terms and ensure the sustainability of the resource. The project - which affected a small group of 7000 rural residents on the Habir aquifer - failed to either transfer water or ensure its sustainability, but suggested important lessons about why it failed. Taking an egalitarian stance, the project tried capacity building of all the 7000 residents to assume rights over the aquifer and manage the transfer of water to the city; however, the real stakeholders were 22 irrigation pumpers - who used over 90% of the aquifer - and not the 7000 residents. The practicalities of achieving the project aims required that the de facto rights of these 22 users were recognized, and incentives created for them to sustainably manage the resource. The pumpers, however, opposed, got frustrated and sabotaged all institutional efforts that infringed their de facto rights and failed to provide them incentives for sustainable management - which meant that sustainability could be possible only by reinforcing existing inequalities. The report on a World Bank Consultation that analysed the lessons of the Taiz project concluded: 'In our judgment, "the egalitarian option" is not viable and ultimately counter productive since it is unlikely to work' (Briscoe, 1999, p. 12).

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