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Framework developed to protect aquatic communities

23 April 2024
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Politecnico of Milan introduce an analytical definition of the concept of 'water commons', examining how vulnerable water is to seizure. They also discuss the associated water justice and environmental implications.

Water commons are water resources that are collectively managed and utilized by communities. These include, for example, rivers, lakes, groundwater layers and springs. Rainwater, snowpacks and glaciers can also be considered water commons. They are often overlooked by national and international policymakers and urgently need protection from commodification and grabbing. The first step for this is to develop a framework to tackle this problem. This has now been done by water scientists in a publication in Nature Water.

Land and water grabbing
Paolo D'Odorico, professor in Ecohydrology (University of California, Berkeley): “It has been estimated that access to different types of natural resources is regulated by community-based customary tenure systems on more than 50% of the global land and more than 60% of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Jampel Dell'Angelo, associate professor in Water Governance and Politics (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), notes that the water commons can be particularly vulnerable to globalization and become a target of predatory investments by companies under unbalanced power relations. The researchers compare the phenomenon to the recent wave of land grabbing. Until now, this problem had not been theorized in the same way for water.

New framework
The researchers also developed a new framework to tackle this complex hydrological and social phenomenon, transforming the 'theory of ownership' into a more realistic 'theory of access'. They describe water acquisition as the outcome of mechanisms, processes and social relations that can be captured and stylized to some extent by intersection of use rights with the intensity of competing claims, the balance (or imbalance) of power dynamics and the level of contestation and recognition of possess.

Addressing water commons grabbing is “critically important for environmental protection, livelihoods, food security,” says Dell’Angelo. He emphasizes that protective interventions from social and environmental organizations, international organizations and governments are very much necessary.

Contact the VU Press Office