Indigenous Approaches to Water Conflict Negotiations and Implications for International Waters

in International Negotiation
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Abstract

As the literature on international water negotiations continues to grow, one resource of expertise remains untapped –that of indigenous populations who have historically inhabited arid regions throughout the world. This article investigates how indigenous peoples of two drylands regions – the Berbers of the High Atlas Mountains and the Bedouin of the Negev Desert –approach negotiations brought about by water scarcity and fluctuation, and their methods are described in the context of current international hydropolitics. Lessons learned from these indigenous methods for conflict resolution which are applicable to modern problems include the following: 1) Allocate time, not water. Berber water management quantifies water in units of time rather than in units of volume. This method allows for local management of a fluctuating supply, and provides a means for a water market without storage structures. 2) Prioritize different demand sectors. Berbers and Bedouin prioritize demand differently, but each provides a hierarchy of importance. This allows for less important uses to be cut off throughout a valley during low flow regimes, rather than entire down-stream villages, and protects investments in infrastructure. 3) Protect downstream and minority rights. Berbers allow only traditional diversion structures which, through their ``inefficiency,'' allow for flow to continue downstream, while Bedouin concepts of equity address honor and pride, as well as right and wrong. 4) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Each group has sophisticated mechanisms of dispute resolution, from which modern international management might benefit. Techniques include recognition of a defined water authority, and ``shared vision'' exercises. 5) The ``sulha.'' Both Berbers and Bedouin follow this Islamic practice of a ritual ceremony of forgiveness. Once the ceremony is performed, the dispute may not be discussed – it is as if it never occurred.

Indigenous Approaches to Water Conflict Negotiations and Implications for International Waters

in International Negotiation

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