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Political ecology of water conflicts

By Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, Joan Martínez-Alier


This article reviews methodologies, types, and political implications of water conflicts from a political ecology perspective. The political ecology of water studies the conflicts on water use, whether as an input or as a vehicle for waste disposal. Both the quantity and the quality of water are relevant for conflicts on water as a commodity and also indirectly in conflicts on water from oil and gas extraction, mining, or biomass production. This study provides an overview and classification of water conflicts, showing how social movements born from such conflicts are creatively generating new modalities of water management and governance in the process. To this end, this article first examines methodological approaches for the analysis of water conflicts and water justice. Then, a taxonomy of water conflicts based on the stages of the commodity chain is presented and discussed. Afterward, empirical evidence is collected showing how social mobilizations in water conflicts become effective providers of management alternatives and governance modalities. Water justice movements and organizations have formed networks, have proposed new principles of water management, and have not only been active in the promotion of the human right to water but also in the recognition of water, along with other elements of nature, as a subject of rights.



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How to cite

WIREs Water 2015, 2:537–558. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1092

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