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Can Water Users' Association (WUA) Enable Good Governance In China?

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Haiyan Yu (OXford, UK)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,
Abstract

Effective water governance requires effective institutions and regulation. Water users' association (WUA) is one of the most popular irrigation reforms over the past decade especially in the developing world. A better understanding of stakeholders' perceptions of WUAs and public participation and the influencing factors can contribute to improvements in water services and management. This paper investigates three typical WUAs in the arid and semi-arid regions of northwest China, drawing upon empirical evidence collected through mixed methodologies. Results show significant discrepancies between understanding, motives and experiences regarding WUAs among different water stakeholders. These discrepancies are affected by a complex interaction of a variety of factors, including geographical locations, socio-economic and political contexts, personal experiences, knowledge gaps, incentives and value systems rather than ordinary socio-demographic variables. It has also shown that in a traditionally clientlistic society such as China social networks and the pattern of relations between different levels (i.e. either cooperative or exploitative) can be more important in participatory irrigation management than the existence of formal institutions or regulation. Furthermore, the roles of social networks on water governance are not necessarily positive, including collective exploitation, corruption especially rent-seeking and collusion. It concludes that effective implementation of WUAs has to be context specific based on accurate water knowledge, better understanding and strategic uses of social networks with shared water motives and goals among different stakeholders. Although the solutions to the water problems may be location-specific, understanding of localized uses and the positive and negative impacts that social networks have on water governance in China could provide important insights for elsewhere as well. Keywords: Water users' association; social networks; water governance; China

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