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Thematic Subgroup on Water Entitlements and Allocations for Livelihoods and Ecosystem Needs

During the last three-four years of Forum’s work which involved extensive documentation of different types of conflicts it became very clear that many of the conflicts centre around the issue of water entitlements for livelihoods, issues of equity and access and also allocations for ecosystem needs. To have a meaningful process of resolving some of these conflicts then evolving a social consensus around entitlements, rights, allocations and ecosystem (environmental) needs is very critical. Presently there is no common understanding on these and different people (stakeholders), depending on their location, have very different conceptions on these. Minimum water assurance – quantity and quality – for livelihoods and ecosystem needs is a pivotal issue in conflict resolution. In this context Forum has decided to set up a sub-group to prepare a position paper on this theme. Similarly the Forum would also set up another sub-group on the theme of legal and institutional issues. The two position papers by these groups can then be fed into the outreach and policy advocacy outputs while partially defining the strategic approach for conflict resolution.


While setting up a framework for the subgroup, we have purposely kept both livelihood needs and ecosystem needs together under this sub-group because if we constitute two separate groups then very often the reports may be at loggerheads with each other each one stressing the importance of one particular issue and it becomes more polarised. It is important that we have an integrated understanding of both. In terms of timeframe the group would take about 6 months for the final output. Once the draft is ready towards the end of fifth month then the Forum will organise a national consultative meeting to discuss the draft and get suggestions and we will also circulate the draft over various e-discussion groups and elicit comments and suggestions from wide section of people. Then over the next month or so the group would finalise the position paper. The final output would be used for dissemination and outreach and building a broad consensus across various actors/stakeholders in the water sector.


The sub group on water entitlements and allocations for livelihoods and ecosystem needs includes following members:

1. K. J. Joy: Coordinator – SOPPECOM and Coordinator of Forum

2. Latha A.: Member – Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshan Samithi, Trichur. She is a member of the Forum’s Steering Committee

3. M. K. Prasad: Member – well known environmentalist from Kerala, former president of KSSP, and member of the National Advisory Committee of the Forum.

4. Shripad Dharmadhikary: Member – Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Badwani (M.P.). He is a Steering Committee member of the Forum

5. K. P. Soma: Member - expert on gender and livelihood issues and independent consultant based at New Delhi

6. Priya Sangameswaran: Member - Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata


First meeting of the subgroup took place on 13 June 2009 at Ernakulam in Kerala. All the group members, i.e. K. J. Joy, Latha A., M. K. Prasad, Shripad Dharmadhikary, K. P. Soma, Priya Sangameswaran were present for the meeting. S. Vishwanth from Arghyam also participated in the meeting.



In this meeting the group first discussed about the framework of the position paper. Few important points the group has come up with are given below:  

1.       The purpose of this exercise is to come out with a position paper of the forum on the issue of allocations for livelihoods and ecosystem needs. This document then could be used to reach out to both the civil society originations (NGOs, social movements and so on) and the policy makers. It should also take into account the larger context of Forum’s work especially in relation to conflict resolution and prevention.



2.       Integrating livelihood needs and ecosystem needs together and going beyond polarisation (or seeing people and ecosystems together) which has excited many groups. We should see this paper as a means to take the debate beyond polarization. It should centre stage the issue of livelihoods and ecosystem and also has to take equity on board.   



3.       The position paper has to move beyond an academic discourse and should have clear policy implications. It must have academic rigour, examine the literature, and engage with both academicians /peoples’ struggles to build a social consensus.



4.       A brief review of the various State Water Policies and the National Water Policy has to be incorporated in the paper for drawing the positives and negatives into the discourse.



5.       There is a clear need to contest the purely engineering view of water and river basins that see ‘rivers/water flowing to the sea is a waste and every drop has to be utilized for human consumption’. Livelihoods need to be located in the river basin planning context taking into account environmental flows.  



6.       According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment more than 20% of the freshwater systems in the world have been already destroyed.  The position paper has to deliberate upon the much debated and yet to be properly articulated term – ensuring minimum flows and environmental flows in the ecosystem – or in other words the allocation for the ecosystem. Here again the debate over allocations for the ecosystem versus “right of the river to flow” or alternatively ‘water itself is part of nature and one cannot presume to allocate water to nature’ needs to be delved upon in detail in the position paper.



7.       The discourse on entitlements and allocation for livelihoods should not be only related to production but also to transactions with nature especially in the cultural context of water use.



8.       The group should be cautious not to move away from the primary concern of strengthening grassroots struggles working for entitlements based on dignity and human rights.



9.       While agreeing not to take extreme views on any aspect, the need to take an all inclusive approach and state the non-negotiables in matters of allocation and entitlements to livelihoods and ecosystem has been commonly agreed upon.



10.   Also since this type of an effort is comparatively new, probably first we need to lay out or map out all the different possibilities and then come out with a tentative proposition of the group.


The group is in a process of finalising the position paper now.