Water scarcity and the sustainability of a common pool resource institution in the urban Andes

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30 Scopus citations


The Cochabamba Water War of 2000 was precipitated by Bolivians' defense of common-pool water resources and institutions against privatization. This article examines the design of a water institution and its sustainability during periods of water scarcity in urban Cochabamba. Based on data collected via participant-observation and panel surveys conducted in 72 randomly selected households, I draw three main conclusions. First, the institution operated according to principles found in sustainable resource management institutions in the rural Andes (Trawick 2001) and across cultures (Ostrom 1990). Second, while the function of the common-pool resource institution was stable over the five study periods, the social structures that supported collective choice and operational rules were sensitive to external events including seasonal water scarcity. Third, while institutions with strong historical precedents for contingencies under resource stress may be sustainable, other forms of social organization on which the institution depends may be more vulnerable to water scarcity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-192
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Bolivia
  • Climate
  • Cochabamba
  • Commons
  • Institutions
  • Seasonal
  • Urban
  • Water scarcity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Ecology


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