At the Confluence: Participatory Development, State-Society Relations, and Transboundary Water Management in the Kura River Basin
Mitchell, Jeanene Mae
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The water sector is part of a larger impetus in environmental policy towards public participation, particularly as water management practices have expanded from purely technocratic approaches to include diverse stakeholders and societal groups (Brethaut 2016, Pahl-Wostl et al., 2007). In particular, broad stakeholder participation has been shown to help build regulatory success and legitimacy for multilateral donor-funded projects in international river basins (Gerlak 2007). Incorporating local stakeholders in project development and implementation has been described by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a large multilateral financial mechanism promoting international cooperation on global environmental protection, as critical to the longevity and impact of projects related to the management of international waters. Public participation is also a key tenet of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), a holistic approach to water management aimed at overcoming fragmented governance in the water sector and endorsed and pursued by multilateral donor institutions (Brethaut 2016). Evidence suggests, however, that local stakeholder participation remains circumscribed in GEF international waters projects, despite the fact that such participation is considered essential for project sustainability, replication, and influencing government policies (GEF OPS3, Chen and Ganapin 2013). If local stakeholder participation is so important, then why is it limited? More broadly, how are transnational development projects implemented locally? To explore these questions, I engage in an ethnography of a multi-year, multi-million dollar GEF-funded transboundary river management project in the Kura River Basin of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. My research aims to explain how local stakeholder engagement strategies in transboundary water management projects are negotiated between development actors and state-level actors across transnational, domestic, and local scales. I answer the puzzle of limited local stakeholder participation in GEF international waters projects by drawing attention to the role of side payments as the site of negotiation between state and development actors at the transnational, national, and local scales. Side payments – forms of compensation to induce an agreement or cooperation among actors (Schelling 1960) – either facilitate or constrain local stakeholder participation in transboundary water management projects depending on the state agenda and the capacity of development brokers to translate or obliquely include participatory strategies. I argue that this process of negotiation has an important effect on water management in a transboundary river basin by affecting whether and how local stakeholders can engage with the river basin in ways that meet their needs for water, economic opportunity, health and safety. My conclusions contribute to an emerging literature on the effects of third-party intermediaries on state-society relations and natural resource management.