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Privatisation of irrigation water services: conflict, mediation and new partnerships in the ElGuerdane project, Morocco

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Annabelle Houdret
- Research fellow at the Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen - Member of the UMR G-Eau, Montpellier - Research fellow at the SIRMA project (Economies d'Eau en Systèmes Irrigués du Maghreb, affiliated to CIRAD)

Keyword(s): irrigation water, privatisation, user conflict, governance of water scarcity, Morocco
Article:
AbstractWater scarcity increasingly causes conflict potentials within states, which have implications for local and national security and stability. Especially in arid or semi-arid countries highly depending on agricultural production, user groups compete over the access to the resource. However, conflicts are closely related to social, political and economic processes as well as the rules of allocation, but are not simply linked to the resource availability. This paper analyses the role of socio-political, economic and ecological factors in the emergence of conflict and cooperation potentials linked to water scarcity. Two questions are at the centre of this analysis: the links between socio-economic disparities, access to water and the emergence of conflict, and the potential for mediation and cooperation through local institutions. After the call for privatisation of water services in the drinking water sector, the irrigation sector today faces a similar trend. Public private partnership (PPP) projects are assumed to help compensate public deficits where important investments are needed to provide irrigation water through complex infrastructure in regions often suffering from water scarcity. However, the experiences so far are ambivalent, as the socio-economic impact of the projects are unequally distributed. This paper examines the PPP project “El Guerdane” in Morocco in order to analyse its impact, especially regarding conflict and cooperation potentials. By analysing this case study, the paper evaluates potentials and risks of implementation of public-private partnerships in the irrigation sector. In order to mitigate the effects of groundwater overexploitation in a strategic area of citrus fruit production, the Moroccan government and King Mohamed VI, backed by international institutions, implement the El Guerdane project in the irrigation sector. The sinking of the water level of 60m within the last 30 years as well as expanding water demand, illegal drilling and difficult climatic conditions had an important impact on water availability in the region, with the consequence that farmers abandoned over 3000ha of formerly arable land. Since 2005, a consortium of different enterprises led by the group Omnium Nord Africain has been in charge of building a canal in order to transfer water over 90km to the farmers. The same company will be responsible for the management of the whole system for thirty years. 600 farmers, who could hardly conserve their lucrative citrus fruit production because of the lack of water, will be served by the El Guerdane project probably from mid 2008 on. However, conflicts are increasing in the very same area: between drinking and agricultural water users, between marginalised farmers and private investors in the agricultural sector or between irrigation agencies and users. The paper analyses these conflicts regarding their root causes and explores cooperation potentials. It presents results based on a survey of over 100 farmers and user associations, members and non-members of the El Guerdane project. From the basis of these analyses, the paper proposes a framework for sustainable governance of water scarcity and options for cooperation between the public and the private sector as well as user associations
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