Identifying the potential of governance regimes to aggravate or mitigate local water conflicts in regions threatened by climate change

Christopher Kuzdas, Benjamin Warner, Arnim Wiek, Mariel Yglesias, Raffaele Vignola, Alonso Ramírez-Cover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


There is a need for specific knowledge of what people can do to mitigate harmful water conflicts. This need is evident in the rural dry tropics of Central America where people face climate change impacts, inefficient water management, and social tension. To address this need, we investigated why some local water conflicts escalated to violence and why other potential conflicts were avoided in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. We used interviews, focus groups, and a stakeholder workshop to analyse five cases. We found that violent actions only occurred when rural groups opposed government agencies in settings without mediating leadership. With one exception in a circumstance aggravated over many years, water users did not take violent action against competing water users. Distrust, which has been formed by legacies of ineffective rural stakeholder engagement, diminished the credibility of water-related information used in decision processes and thus prolonged conflicts. Active community-based groups respected by both rural constituencies and government agencies helped some people avoid difficult conflicts. Self-organised groups in other areas struggled to address disputes in settings with contested property rights, high socio-economic inequality, and low human capital. Using insights from Guanacaste, we outline practical conflict mitigation strategies fitted to a range of local water governance contexts found in rural Central America. Results suggest the need for incorporating certain types of peace-building processes in water management and development. The study provides a foundation for policy-makers, water managers, and other stakeholders to more effectively manage water disputes and avoid harmful conflicts in challenging regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1387-1408
Number of pages22
JournalLocal Environment
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Central America
  • Resource conflict
  • actor-oriented analysis
  • conflict management
  • framework
  • peace building

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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