GIGA Working Paper, No. 291, September 2016
GIGA Focus Lateinamerika, 05/2016
Dr. María Cecilia Roa Garcia was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow from Colombia. She worked at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies as a visiting fellow between May 2015 and April 2017.
Cecilia, what is your research about?
I am working on two related themes: the mechanisms available to communities to have consequential participation in decision-making about the use of land and water in their territories; and the use of water knowledge (or lack of it) by different stakeholders in policy- and decision-making. This research is particularly important in Latin America as the global demand for commodities in the last 20 years has led to an increasing number of conflicts around the use of land and water by extractive industries for mining, fossil fuels, biomass production, and hydroelectricity projects.
How does water knowledge impact policymaking around extractive industries?
Decisions about water resources tend to be depoliticised. This means that there is a tendency to discourage debate and confrontation about the use of water, and to encourage consensus around technicalities and managerial decisions made by professionals and experts. In the processes around granting concessions and water permits for extractive activities, the scientific knowledge about water is not neutral, nor are the policies that guide the generation and use of such knowledge. Water is a flow resource, continuously changing in temporal and spatial scales, and climatic variability is creating even more extreme conditions of water availability. The complexity of the water cycle and the water metabolism (how water is used by society) create many uncertainties when it comes to extractive activities. In many cases, uncertainty rather than knowledge is the context of environmental policies for extractive activities.
How are local actors challenging environmental and water policies?
Ethnic and peasant communities are claiming the right to have meaningful, effective, and consequential participation in decisions that have a direct impact on their environment, their livelihoods, and their present and future. In many cases they do not want to be compensated for irreversible damages to the territories where they live. Communities are using different valuation languages and are challenging the core roots of environmental conflicts.
What has been your experience working on these issues at the GIGA?
GIGA is a unique institute for looking at these issues from the perspective of social and political sciences to complement a more biophysical sciences perspective. My research has benefited from an interdisciplinary setting and a global perspective.
Thank you very much, Cecilia Roa.