Socio-Technical Aspects of Water Management: Emerging Trends at Grass Roots Level in Uzbekistan

A Water and Marine Sustainability Month Feature Article

Chatkal river near Charvak lake (Uzbek: Chorvoq), Public Domain Image Courtesy of Anton Rakitskiy

[tweetmeme] Iskandar Abdullaev and Peter P. Mollinga of the ZEF Center for Development Research, University of Bonn recently issued a paper titled „The Socio-Technical Aspects of Water Management: Emerging Trends at Grass Roots Level in Uzbekistan,“  the abstract of which is: In Soviet times, water management was presented generally as a technical issue to be taken care of by the state water bureaucracy. Due to structural changes in agriculture in the two decades post-independence, irrigation water management has become an explicitly political and social issue in Central Asia. With the state still heavily present in the regulation of agricultural production, the situation in Uzbekistan differs from other post-communist states. Water management strategies are still strongly ‘Soviet’ in approach, regarded by state actors as purely ‘technical’, because other dimensions – economic, social and political – are ‘fixed’ through strong state regulation. However, new mechanisms are appearing in this authoritarian and technocratic framework. The application of a framework for socio-technical analysis in some selected Water Users’ Associations (WUAs) in northwest Uzbekistan’s Khorezm region shows that the WUAs are becoming arenas of interaction for different interest groups involved in water management. The socio-technical analysis of Khorezm’s water management highlights growing social differences at grass root level in the study of WUAs. The process of social differentiation is in its early phases, but is still able to express itself fully due to the strict state control of agriculture and social life in general.

The introduction to this interesting paper reads:

Societal problems are multi-faceted and complex. For instance, natural resources management (NRM) has several components and dimensions that influence each other. Solutions for NRM problems require an understanding of both natural resources systems and their interactions with human (management) systems. The response to a growing number of NRM problems, particularly in the water sector of Central Asia, has been one of “normal professionalism” from water sector researchers and engineers. “Normal professionalism” is a standard, disciplinary, limited response to problems, which is reproduced in the education system. This has contributed to the reproduction and continuation of problems, and has been generating limited approaches for addressing water management. A more comprehensive, inter- and trans-disciplinary approach to water management (1) acknowledges the complexity and heterogeneity of problems and organizations, (2) accepts the relevance of the local context and uncertainty, (3) implies interactive action and is intersubjective, and (4) has to make linkages across disciplinary boundaries.

The need for such a change in perspective is especially pertinent in Central Asia, where water management in the past decades has changed from a centralized issue considered purely technical, to a widely debated and contested trans-boundary, socio-political endeavour. Disciplinary and government-directed research efforts from the Soviet period no longer suffice for water management in the modern Central Asian context for the following reasons.

1. Due to major geopolitical change following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the governance and management of trans-boundary water resources among five newly independent Central Asian countries became an explicit political process. During Soviet times, water governance and management could be presented as a purely ‘technical’ matter, because the other dimensions were under strict control and unchangeable.

2. Post-Soviet changes in agricultural policies have brought significant social changes in rural areas. The ensuing social differentiation of the rural population has been captured by different research studies. The issue of unequal distribution of water has made its entry into the regional political economy.

3. The environmental consequences of the previous “hydraulic mission” have been catastrophic for the region. Therefore, research that speaks to a series of concerns, notably ecology, equity and governance, and not just to ‘development’ in the earlier sense, is required.

This paper presents a framework for the socio-technical1 analysis of water management and the results of its application in a Water Users’ Association (WUA) in the Khorezm region, Uzbekistan.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Abdullaev, I.; Mollinga, P.P. The Socio-Technical Aspects of Water Management: Emerging Trends at Grass Roots Level in Uzbekistan. Water 2010, 2, 85-100.

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