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

  • Els Lecoutere


    (Ghent University)

  • Ben D’Exelle


    (University of East Anglia)

  • Bjorn Van Campenhout


    (University of Antwerp)

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 conflictive in the Tanzanian irrigator communities where strong noncompetition 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 a political ecology perspective we conclude that circumstances in Tanzania are conducive to resource scarcity conflicts. Water scarcity and water values are increasing. 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.

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Paper provided by MICROCON - A Micro Level Analysis of Violent Conflict in its series Research Working Papers with number 31.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mcn:rwpapr:31
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  1. Oses-Eraso, Nuria & Viladrich-Grau, Montserrat, 2007. "Appropriation and concern for resource scarcity in the commons: An experimental study," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2-3), pages 435-445, August.
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