Research on water scarcity in the South has often focused on the impacts of limited water resources for the rural poor, prompted most recently by the climate change debate. Less attention has been drawn to the social and institutional processes surrounding the emergence of new collective water resources, and how this affects authority, access rights and social exclusion in local water governance. The paper addresses this issue through a study of local competition over access to new common-pool water resources in isolated rural areas of Zambia and Mali. In Mali, climate change has led to the sporadic emergence of new natural lakes and ponds in some locations. In Zambia, the development of boreholes has provided access to water resources that were not previously available to local communities. The paper explores how local actors and organizations have sought to assert control over and rights of access to the new water resources. It shows the ways in which this has furthered both conflict and cooperation between the involved actors, and how new rules of access and associated institutional domains have developed. At the same time, however, it also shows how the struggles over access and authority have tended to marginalize the poorest and other user groups from access to the new water resources, by seeking either to monopolize access rights or developing explicit and implicit mechanisms of exclusion. The paper concludes by discussing the implications for water policy and research in terms of the way we understand the development of new water resources in the current context of inequality, water scarcity and climate change.
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13th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), 2011