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Contested Water Resources: Social and Environmental Justice in Rural-Urban Water Transfer for Municipal Use in Nepal

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Title: Contested Water Resources: Social and Environmental Justice in Rural-Urban Water Transfer for Municipal Use in Nepal
Author: Bhattarai, Kiran
Department: School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
Program: Rural Studies
Advisor: FitzGibbon, John
Abstract: Water is the source of life and death. In order to address growing water crises, urban areas in most countries draw additional water from the surrounding rural areas. Although rural to urban water transfers are often seen as just and legitimate state interventions toward universal access to water and sanitation, issues, such as restrictions on customary use and reduced flows in the river, can cause injustices to rural communities and the environment. Globally, the benefits of water extraction are, for the most part, accrued in urban places where the raw water is processed in treatment plants to generate added value in the form of clean and safe water. However, there is limited empirical analysis to assess how seemingly legitimate state interventions cause injustices to those who are most vulnerable to resource extractions. This research employs an environmental and social justice lens to examine injustices caused by legitimacy gaps in rural to urban water transfers for municipal use in the national capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. The case studies are the two most significant water supply transfer systems in the country, namely the existing Sundrijal Water Transfer System (an intra-basin water transfer) and the ongoing development of the Melamchi Water Supply Project (an inter-basin water transfer). The data collection procedure involved key informant interviews, household survey interviews, policy workshops, policy document review and direct observation. Research findings suggest that within the policy process of Nepal’s major water transfer schemes, the liberal idea of justice as a moral virtue fails to appreciate the political nature of legitimacy arising from differences in stakeholder beliefs and values. Collaborative governance institutions were established in both source and recipient basins as a means to placate civil disobedience. However, these were non-argumentative forms of collaborative spaces, which have so far not sufficiently transformed unjust power structures between dominant and minority stakeholders. This research concludes that an argumentative form of collaborative decision making can improve social and environmental justice, especially if the affected communities are capable of negotiating welfare loss due to reduced access to water for their livelihoods up and downstream of the diversion point.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10214/17707
Date: 2019-12
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