Public Participation in Integrated Water Resource Management: Villages in Lao PDR and the Mekong River Basin
Several authors have challenged Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) as inoperable and technocratic for the issues surrounding water resources known as contemporary water resource politics. As a result, new methods and analytical frameworks have been suggested for IWRM that have been qualified as interdisciplinary water research. Interdisciplinary water research is proposed to be context-based and focused on politics and management. Thus, principles underlying IWRM, such as public participation are gaining more attention because those principles enable sustainable water resource decisions to achieve socio-economic and ecological equity. This exploratory case study examines public participation in IWRM by looking at two villages in Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Participatory activities used to incorporate villages into water resource decisions are evaluated at different levels of government up to an international river basin organization known as the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The study uses a critical Third World political ecology perspective to elucidate water resource politics surrounding low levels of participation found among IWRM institutions in Lao PDR. Findings also reveal public participation in water resource decisions is politically complex. The participation of villages in water resource development decisions was related to issues surrounding national policies such as poverty alleviation, land allocations, resettlement, and swidden agriculture. Meanwhile, other types of participation were found in which villages could maintain control over their water interests. The study concludes more research is required surrounding water resource politics to better identify more effective and genuine participation of people whose livelihoods are dependent on water resources.