Who Engages in Water Scarcity Conflicts? A Field Experiment with Irrigators in Semi-Arid Africa

MICROCON Research Working Paper No. 31

29 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2010

See all articles by Els Lecoutere

Els Lecoutere

Ghent University-Universiteit Gent

Ben D'Exelle

University of East Anglia (UEA)

Bjorn Van Campenhout

University of Antwerp - Institute for Development Policy and Management

Date Written: August 14, 2010

Abstract

Does water scarcity induce conflict? And who would engage in a water scarcity conflict? In this paper we look for evidence of the relation between water scarcity and conflictive behavior. With a framed field experiment conducted with smallholder irrigators from semi-arid Tanzania that replicates appropriation from an occasionally scarce common water flow we assess what type of water users is more inclined to react in conflictive way to scarcity. On average, water scarcity induces selfish appropriation behavior in the experiment which is regarded as conflictive in the Tanzanian irrigator communities where strong non-competition norms regulate irrigation water distribution. But not all react to water scarcity in the same way. Poor, marginalized, dissocialized irrigators with low human capital and with higher stakes are most likely to react with conflictive appropriation behavior to water scarcity. Viewed from a political ecology perspective we conclude that circumstances in Tanzania are conducive to resource scarcity conflicts. Water scarcity and water values are increasing, and water governance institutions entail exclusionary elements. Moreover, a higher likelihood to react in a conflictive way to water scarcity coincides with real economic and political inequalities which could form a basis for mobilization for more violent ways of competing for scarce resources.

Keywords: Conflict, Water, Tanzania

Suggested Citation

Lecoutere, Els and D’Exelle, Ben and Van Campenhout, Bjorn, Who Engages in Water Scarcity Conflicts? A Field Experiment with Irrigators in Semi-Arid Africa (August 14, 2010). MICROCON Research Working Paper No. 31. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1660491 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1660491

Els Lecoutere (Contact Author)

Ghent University-Universiteit Gent ( email )

Conflict Research Group
Universiteitstraat 8
Gent, B-9000
Belgium

Ben D’Exelle

University of East Anglia (UEA) ( email )

Norwich Research Park
Norwich, NR4 7TJ
United Kingdom

Bjorn Van Campenhout

University of Antwerp - Institute for Development Policy and Management ( email )

Prinsstraat 13
Antwerp, Antwerp 2000
Belgium

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