Overall Project Result to Date


I. Which resource-management institutions emerge in the intersection of global models and local social, economic and political structures as well as norms and belief systems?


Example: Water point contributions


Until the 1990s, water was free of charge to the local communities, i.e. they did not have to pay for diesel fuel or repairs. But this situation changed in the context of the new water policy and now the users are confronted with the challenge of distributing the costs for the operation and basic maintenance of their boreholes. So water has turned out to be an economic good, which was one of the main goals of the Namibian water decentralization program following the principles of Dublin’s Agenda 21, especially the fourth point: “water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good”.


In this connection, the state suggests in its guidelines and handbooks for water point committees that local users should pay a certain rate per head of large or small stock, so as to raise enough money to sustain the water point (see e.g. Republic of Namibia 2006: 8). Yet, we established that out of 55 communities where this “per animal rule” was at some point agreed upon among its members, only in 31 of them was the rule actually put into practice. In 24 communities, a flat-rate solution for financing the water point was implemented instead. How can this discrepancy be explained?


In the case of the “per animal rule”, for instance, everyone effectively pays the same amount per unit of water; while in the case of the flat rate, those who own more animals (and therefore consume more water) pay less per unit of water than those who possess less livestock. It was established that in almost all settlements of the sample, the number of households that would benefit from the “per animal rule” outweighed the number of those that would not. To understand the reason why the flat-rate rule dominates although it does not favor the majority, it is necessary to look at the local structures. On the one hand, differences in wealth in terms of cattle ownership are predominant in the region; on the other, the actors at the local level share more than just water. The households in the communities maintain multiplex relationships of support, and interdependencies as well as dependencies between them are common. For instance, in the north of Kunene region the social fabric of the communities is shaped by patron-client relations, kinship, and joint grazing strategies. At the same time, wealthier and older heads of household have greater bargaining power due to their higher position in society. Therefore, it is very hard to force a rich relative to pay something that he does not wants to pay. In addition, the “per animal rule” involves higher administrative costs because the animals have to be counted and different contribution amounts have to be collected. All these factors tend to push institutions toward developing flat-rate solutions, even though these are officially initiated in the form of the “per animal rule”. 


According to our analysis though, in the settlements in which the state conducts more intensive training and more frequent follow-ups, the likelihood that such an institutional transformation takes place is lower. Here, it can be stated that the state is supporting the poor, while by paying a flat rate the poor are subsidizing the rich. However, in times of crisis it is probable that the rich will support their poor neighbors in other areas of life due to the multiple and reciprocal field of sharing. These are issues that will be explored more deeply in the second phase of the project. 




Example: boundaries


One central idea in the community-based water management program constitutes the notion of geographically defined user groups. This conception of community is strongly influenced by politics and environmental movements, and also by academics. Elinor Ostrom, for instance, stated that the clear definition of group boundaries is the first criterion promoting cooperation and sustainable resource management. This idea, for instance, is included in the state guidelines for the communities suggesting that the water point contributions for members of a water point association should be lower than for non-members, i.e. users from other places.


However, based on the communities sampled (n=20) we established that in practice, this rule is not implemented, although the users had initially agreed upon it. Due to the fact that external users usually have family ties to people in the places where they seek alternative water sources in emergency situations, they are rarely asked for money to access and use the borehole on site. Only when it is clear that they will stay for a longer period of time were the visitors asked to pay. Here, the availability of grazing land – not water – is usually the determining factor in whether other users are allowed to stay and use the local water point.


A look into the social structures and experiences of the people reveals an explanation for these circumstances. Actors reflect on the fact that drought can affect everyone, since rainfall can be very scattered in the region, and that therefore some settlements might receive good rains while others do not. Here, the principle of reciprocity and mutual cooperation supersedes the payments differentiating between members and non-members of the water point association, which might otherwise restrict their mobility in the region. In addition, the actors are commonly related to each other, and in times of crisis it is morally indefensible to exclude them. Thus, we see that especially in times of crisis the group boundaries are broadly conceived.




Example: Participation and gender


According to our observations and interviews, the workers from the DRWS (but also members of NGOs acting on their behalf) propagate the notion that decisions should be made conjointly among all registered members of the water point association within the framework of community meetings. Ideally, all heads of household with their respective spouses, and young adults of both sexes should be part of these meetings. Everyday decisions about the water point management, in turn, (such as those concerning repairs, and the implementation of sanctions) should be made by the water point committee, also in the context of meetings. In this connection, the extension officers of the DRWS strongly recommend the election of women and young adults to the water point committees in order to promote participation and gender equality.


These measures are in line with principles three and four of the Dublin Agenda, to which the Namibian state committed. They postulate correspondingly that “Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels” and that “Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water”.


The assessment of the water point composition in 61 communities revealed that women find little consideration for their holding the positions of caretaker and chairperson, while they dominate in the positions of secretary and treasurer. The reasons given by our informants explain these circumstances: on the one hand, in terms of money administration, women are generally considered more trustworthy than men; and on the other, as a rule, women are responsible for the primary care of the household as well as for the purchase of food. This means that (especially older) women adopt a newly created role in which tasks (such as the organization of monetary expenses) similar to those conducted in other realms of life are carried out, with a certain degree of social autonomy. Here, for a woman to participate in committees involves the transference of an important aspect of her role in the private sphere to the public one.


At the same time, however, participation does not mean that decisions are made democratically, or that they are always made within the group. Our observations reveal that it is especially older and more influential residents (sometimes including women), who set the direction in other realms of social life (such as concerning access to grazing land, or acting as traditional judges in cases of theft and violence) also do so in the sphere of water management. Against this this background, in sum decision-making processes and participation concerning the water management are strongly shaped by local understandings of authority and gender roles.




Example: Sanctions


In the economic literature, sanctions are stated as a key condition for a successful management of common-pool resources. For Ostrom, this aspect plays a central role as well and it constitutes her fifth ‘design principle’ for institutional design: “Appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions” (Ostrom 1990: 90). Correspondingly, it is not surprising that diverse sanctions are included in the blueprints for community-based water management in Namibia. They comprise penalties for actions such as water wasting, for using the water point without permission (for external users), and for not paying the water point contributions. If a member of the water point association does not pay, after two verbal warnings he/ she should be excluded from access to water. Yet, only in exceptional cases could we establish that such sanctions (especially exclusion from access to the borehole) are actually applied.


 The explanation for these circumstances is connected to the role of social relationships too. As an analysis of the multiplexity of social relations based on all network data (n=80) shows, the majority of persons interact in many different contexts with each other. They are neighbors, friends, and relatives, they grew up together, and they share land and work. Thus, it is seldom possible to consider a deviation from a norm in a given field (such the non-payment of the contributions) as isolated and to sanction correspondingly. Often, we recorded that in such a case, the actor in question connected the non-payment of the contributions with other topics of conflict, saying e.g.: “but I helped to fence the water point”, or “your son stole a goat from me the other time”. This limits the legitimacy of and the possibilities for sanctioning, as water is placed in a context of long-term, reciprocal, and multiplex relationships. Furthermore, although persons adopt a role in the realm of water management (such as treasurer, secretary, etc.), these positions do not supersede other relationships, since those individuals are still relatives, neighbors, community members, etc. The social embeddedness leads to the fact that the sanctions included in the water-management plans are not imposed. At the same time, however, this embeddedness generates possibilities of social control that can be linked to the realm of water management. For instance, outstanding payments can be demanded at a point in time when it is known that the non-payer has recently sold an animal, or is known to have money, due to the visibility of the interactions and/ or the flow of information. In these situations, the social costs in the case of a refusal by the non-payer would be very high.




Summarizing, it can be established that sanctions in regard to water management cannot be comprehended separately from other spheres of life and social relations. Even though the sanctions included in the management plans are not implemented, often other situational possibilities manage to maintain cooperation (see Schnegg & Linke 2015 for a more detailed elaboration of this argument).






II. How are institutions for resource management negotiated?


Basically, we can differentiate two forms of negotiation processes: vertical and horizontal.




Vertical negotiation processes


These negotiations are characterized by the discussions that the communities enter into with the actors implementing the community-based water management model at the local level (i.e. extension officers, state and NGO representatives, etc.). Results from the region around Fransfontein reveal, for instance, that some communities do not simply accept the handover process, but begin to call into question the economization of water and the implications/ conditions connected to it. They argue, for example, that the water points are not being properly rehabilitated before they,  the villagers, take on the responsibility for the basic operation and maintenance over them. And this is one of the central conditions included in the community-­based water management strategy for the handover process. Furthermore, the implementation of the reform may be subverted by the damaging of the water infrastructure by elephants or the theft of solar panels. As a matter of fact, only a few water points have been handed over completely to the communities (so that they have the full responsibility for their operation including, re-drilling and major repairs).




An interesting aspect in this regard is the role of the mediators, especially that of the extension officers of the Directorate of Rural Water Supply. According to our observations, they switch back and forth between adopting the perspective of the state and that of the community members. Many of them have animals in the communal areas and know about the water-supply-related problems. Sometimes, during the discussions, at first they promote key concepts of the reform (such as participation, autonomy, responsibility), but then they change sides and begin to support the villagers in their demands for better protection of the water point, for example.






Horizontal negotiation processes


The negotiations within and between communities revolve around the distribution of water and its costs in particular; here, we could differentiate two lines of conflict: on the one hand, actors, their characteristics’ and the associated power structures play an important role. On the other, divergences on the institutional level could be identified, e.g. between the state-implemented rules and social norms. Due to the fact that negotiations concerning the establishement/ implementation of the water point contributions constitute one central topic of conflict, we will approach this aspect more in detail below.


One congruent result concerning the actor’s characteristics is that power and the scope of decision-making are not usually linked to institutions and organizations in relation to the water management (excepting the places where the state is more present). Rather, power from other political and social contexts is transferred to the administration and organization of water. Thus authority is linked to single actors and their social networks, which are active in a series of institutions, organizations, and committees in turn. Likewise, giving money and using water is not primarily determined by institutionally established rules, but rather through contexts of social relations and norms of reciprocity, as explained above.  


The negotiation processes between the communities take place especially in the context of Livestock migration and/ or droughts. In the southern Kunene the cattle also graze during the dry season without herders, and (depending of the availability of pastures) use different water points. In periods of drought, this situation is exacerbated and the cattle herds may travel quite far from ‘their’ water points. Also in these situations the residents of communal areas draw on flexible arrangements and norms of reciprocity and not on clear defined rules and sanctions. As mentioned in the previous section, the payments do not differentiate between internal and external users. Instead, there is a flexible guideline that commits external users to paying, but only if they stay over a long period of time using a borehole from other community. The question of from what point in time, how much they have to pay, is solved on a case-by-case basis.






III. Under which conditions do Institutions lead to cooperation or conflict? 


Our results show that cooperative rules do not always result from the guidelines suggested by the community-based water management strategy of the state. Besides, the implementation of the program and the associated economization of water clearly generate conflicts. By comparing all case studies, it becomes apparent that conflict, rather than cooperation, predominates as a result of the state’s demand-oriented water decentralization strategy. Here, the issue of how the costs of the operation and maintenance of the boreholes is a major concern.






Kathrin Gradt describes a case in the Otwani region where a strong formalization of the water point rules and the implementation of sanctions reduces conflicts in regard to the water management. But this presupposes a strong presence of state actors, who support those community members with less bargaining power and monitor to ensure that the state guidelines are put into practice. Other cooperative practices are embedded in structures beyond the state’s blueprints. Here two important observations could be made: on the one hand, the communal water-management benefits from the individual commitment of single actors (some collect money, although they are not officially responsible for doing so, or consent to pay in advance, or agree to buy spare parts); on the other, cooperative practices are embedded in social relations in which diverse resources are exchanged and shared in accordance to norms of reciprocity. Also the wish to live in peace, and norms of conflict avoidance, both play a part in contributing to maintaining cooperation. The maintenance of kin, neighborly, and community relations prevents an escalation of conflicts around water too.   


As explained above, social relations are multiplex, i.e. actors interact among themselves in terms of various roles (they are relatives and water users) and support each other in different spheres. These multiplex linkages can exert pressure on economically weak households, as these are dependent on others’ support, and help in different spheres. Yet, if these households get the chance to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate, such as for instance by helping to conduct repairs at the water point, they will use it. In comparison, wealthy actors have an easier time evading this pressure, but they are embedded in social networks too, and can enhance their reputation by engaging in exchange and sharing practices. However, someone who is obviously rich but is not willing to invest in social relations and communal goods is increasingly socially discredited. The results show that cooperation in relation to the water management is not based on clear regulations and sanctions, but rather that it is embedded within a specific normative and social framework.








One central aspect of the state’s community-based water management strategy is that the communities have taken on the responsibility of bearing the costs for the diesel and for the basic maintenance of their boreholes. In the settlements, one of the main sources of conflict in this regard is the distribution of the corresponding costs. Here, it is important to take into account that especially the households in the southern Kunene region are affected by economic uncertainty; they have few livestock, no regular salaries, are in many cases dependent on state transfers (pensions), and are supported by relatives. By means of the state pensions – which amounted to 500 NAD at the time of our research – outstanding debts for groceries are paid and new basic foodstuffs are bought. An additional flat rate for diesel of 100 NAD, which must be paid every two to three months during the dry season, means a high financial burden for these economically weak households.


Furthermore, all research regions are characterized by significant economic differences, where the economically vulnerable households are distinct from others having large cattle herds and, in the southern Kunene, regular salaries. The issue of the distribution of costs is therefore of special significance. The conflict is basically over which of two basic approaches to paying the water point contributions is adopted: the “per head of livestock rule”, or the flat-rate rule (see point I above). As shown above, the flat-rate rule is the consequence of an unequal distribution of power, underpinned by political, economic, and social structures and relations. On the other hand, we have also indicated that the state can play an important role in the implementation of the “per head of livestock rule”.


In addition, the results from the southern Kunene region reveal that the implementation of a formalized cost-recovery model contradicts local conceptions and norms of reciprocity. The flat-rate rule, for instance, can be explained as the expectation that everyone should give, while at the same time an economic buffer is put into practice. A rule based on the principle by which every household should pay according to the number of animals it owns does not correspond to local notions of a ‘fair’, i.e. a ‘flexible’ and multiplex, give-and-take. In fact, the interviews show that these are not only the arguments of the wealthy actors, but are the general view of what is morally appropriate with regard to practices of reciprocity. Still, the flat rate favors the wealthy actors who champion it. A comparison between the payments in the southern Kunene Region shows that less affluent households effectively pay up to three times more per head of livestock than the wealthy, (though wealthy households pay significantly more as an aggregate amount). Our data show a broad tendency: wealthy livestock owners consume on average 15 times more water than poor livestock owners, while paying the same amount; and this difference tends to increase over the course of time: after 100 months, they would consume 18 times more. The investigation of cost distribution and the economic situation at the household level will be deepened in the second project phase.






VI. What impacts do institutions have in other social spheres and on the environment?


The preliminary results show that the “new” institutions have an impact at the economic, social, and political level. In the economic sphere, the poor households pay more for their water than the rich ones do. In the social sphere, the new institutions have led to an increase in conflicts, even though these are not of violent nature. In the political sense, the results are currently being evaluated, and in the coming years a new water policy guideline will be established. Although the analysis of these questions is still ongoing, we can say something more about the ecological consequences with regard to water and land.


Concerning the availability of groundwater we know by now that it only regenerates to a limited extent at the local level. Groundwater comes predominantly from Angola, where it seeped down in the ground many years ago. Due to the fact that the boreholes in the seven communities we have studied have not dried up, either in the past or in recent times, we can assume that the current rate of extraction is not so high that it jeopardizes the prospects of long-term use. Against this background, therefore, there was no reason to reduce the consumption by means of an economization. 


With regard to the land, and especially the vegetation, we can assume, by means of our analysis based on satellite imagery between 1984 and 2014, that the changed institutions in the realm of water management do not have a directly visible influence. Although it can be stated that vegetation has increased over the course of time, this does not seem to be a direct consequence of the new water policy (i.e. that people have tended to keep less livestock as water has become costly). Our observations in selected settlements actually show the opposite: one can establish an increase in livestock populations due to migration and investments in cattle, goats, and sheep in the rural areas (see Schnegg, Pauli and Greiner 2013).


It seems rather that it is variations in the amount of precipitation that are a more plausible reason for the increased vegetation cover. Measurements based on Africa Rainfall Climatology, Version 2 (ARC2), show that rainfall over recent years was greater than average. Furthermore, measurements of the vegetation density around water points showed that vegetation cover increases with distance away from the water point. Even in years of low rainfall there is a higher vegetation density in the bush, which is in a way a buffer in terms of vegetation.


In sum: water seems to be available in sufficient quantities; the recent rise in the cost of water has not led to a decrease in the densities of livestock in the researched areas; and in the last decade greater-than-average rainfall has led to an increase in vegetation. 



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