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Institutional reform in the Andean irrigation sector: Enabling policies for strengthening local rights and water management

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For centuries, local and indigenous water rights and rules in the Andean region have been largely neglected and discriminated against. The process of undermining local communities’ water access and control rights continues up to today and not only is it headed by powerful local, national and international water-use actors encroaching local rights — it is also a direct consequence of vertical State law and intervention practices, and the latest privatization policies. Recognition of and security for the diverse and dynamic local rights and management frameworks is crucial for improving rural livelihoods and even national food security in Andean countries. At the request of the Government of Ecuador — in which at that time the indigenous movement had its political participation — a research mission was organized to formulate a proposal for institutional reform, aiming at the strengthening of the national irrigation sector. In this article, some basic mission results are outlined and analyzed within the scope of four concepts (institutional viability, political democracy, equity, and water rights security), and practical elements for institutional reform are suggested, not only for the Ecuadorian irrigation sector but also other settings. The complementary roles of central Government, local governments and water user organizations in water resources management are emphasized as is the need to strengthen enabling legal and policy frameworks. The importance of translating constitutional recognition of local and indigenous rights and common property systems into practical procedures and institutional structures is also stressed.

Keywords: Andes; Ecuador; Institutional reform; Irrigation; Peasant and indigenous organizations; Water resource policy; Water rights

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, and the Water Law and Indigenous Rights programme (WALIR) 2: The Hivos foundation in The Netherlands. 3: Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

Publication date: 2005-02-01

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