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Treating water as an economic good: policies and practices in irrigation agriculture in Xinjiang, China

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Since the 1990s, the idea that water should be treated as an economic good has become a widely acclaimed but also disputed principle. In Xinjiang, a dry region in north-west China, the idea has been translated into government water management policies and practices. Based on investigations in the Kaidu-Kongque River Basin, this paper describes how the idea is interpreted in concrete water fee policies and practices in local water management in irrigation agriculture, and discusses what problems exist in current water fee collection practices and expenditure, as well as in water management in irrigation agriculture. The main argument is that water management is deeply tied to the political, social and economic conditions of the state, and water pricing is part of the complex, diverse and changing social reality. In the study area, the interpretation of treating water as an economic good has not contributed to a fairer and more efficient use of scarce water resources, but rather it has been applied to achieve other political and economic goals as well as to strengthen a powerful and rapidly growing bureaucracy.
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Keywords: China; Xinjiang; irrigation agriculture; water fee; water management

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, South Beijing Road 40-3, 830011, Urumqi, China, Email: 2: Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim 7491, Norway, Email:

Publication date: 2010-06-01

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