Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: A Human Rights-Based Approach to the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in Southeast Asia
By Carl Middleton
Presented at Resource Politics: Transforming Pathways to Sustainability, 7-9 September 2015, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex
In Mainland Southeast Asia, major transboundary rivers such as the Mekong River and the Salween River are central to the food security, livelihoods and culture of millions of people. Increasingly fulfilled plans for hydropower dams place environmental and social costs onto communities whose human rights are often violated. In 2014, the International Watercourse Law entered into force, whilst globally there is also growing recognition of the relationship between the environment and human rights, including the Right to Water, as well as the role that extra territorial obligations (ETOs) might play in protecting these human rights. Meanwhile, the “food-water-energy nexus” has also emerged as a potentially useful research and policy agenda, but remains contested including over how it addresses issues of justice. All are relevant to cross-border investments in hydropower projects in Southeast Asia.
This paper examines how processes of transboundary river resource dispossession by large hydropower dams have been challenged within “arenas of water justice” in Southeast Asia, conceptualized as politicized spaces of water governance in which a process for claiming and/or defending the Right to Water takes place. The paper problematizes how justice has been understood in relation to water and its governance, and the implications for power and politics within arenas of water justice on transboundary rivers. It explores how arenas of water justice have played out through a case study of the Xayaburi Dam, which is a heavily contested project now under construction on the Mekong River’s mainstream in Laos that will export the majority of its electricity to Thailand. The paper suggests that given that human rights are interdependent and indivisible, a human rights-based approach to the food-water-energy nexus could anchor “the nexus” in a clear normative framework. Meanwhile, recent political economy research on the nexus in practice (for example Foran, 2015) could provide a clear analytical framework by which to materially express these human rights’ indivisibility and the politics surrounding them. Such rights are claimed and defended within arenas of water justice.
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Cite this article as: Middleton, C(2015) “Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: A Rights-Based Approach to the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in Southeast Asia” Presented at Resource Politics: Transforming Pathways to Sustainability, 7-9 September 2015, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex