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Weakly versus Strongly Structured State- and Non-State Actors


The strong state governs in a way that every operation, every transaction, is noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, reformed, corrected, punished [Pierre-Joseph Prudhon, in Scott, James C.. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. Yale University Press]. The strong state organizes its resources, including water, land, people, etc., in a meticulous way. In communist systems, this was referred to as command system where the state owns and decides on the distribution and use of all production factors. Despite the political transition at the end of 1991, the approach is – for example – still in place in the water sectors of the Central Asian Republics.

Such institutional environments are characterized by strict rules about water accounting that are deeply embedded in the administrative processes as well as reflected by the hierarchy of the administration itself. In such systems, new innovation technologies on monitoring are hard to anchor as the strong state has strict rules about technology and measurement standard compliance with existing standards. Compliance with these standards is a minimal requirement for the consideration of these technologies.

The certification of new technologies is normally a lengthy and expensive process. It does not lend itself to quick testing and the easy integration into operational practices. Clearly, this only applies to the state-controlled domain as, for example, is the case for all off-farm water deliveries in the Central Asian Republics to the end users (Water User Organizations and/or farmers). Thus, for the purpose of official monitoring, the development of non-traditional data and the deployment of related technologies is difficult as innovation is viewed with suspicion rather than with curiosity. At the same time, while the uptake of innovative technologies might be difficult, the modernization of existing workflows and practices (i.e. digitization) inside the agencies is most often welcomed by such agencies since it rein-forces the existing rather than questioning the long-proven.

In contrast, weak states have low or stagnant economic growth, weak governing institutions that have little capacity and limited budgets to implement policies and maintain autonomy with issues surrounding corruption and possibly also conflict. In Tanzania, for example, the Water Resources Management Act, 2009 clearly outlines the guidelines and principles for effective and sustainable management, including also for pricing of water resources, for monitoring and for obtaining water abstraction permits. While this sounds nice on paper, the weak state almost always lacks the resources to enforce such regulations or effective management is bogged down by corrupt practices at different levels of the management and planning hierarchy. Existing rules in such administrative environments are not there to be adhered to but are rather often bent in the sense that they can be interpreted in a way so that particular interests are served – interests which do not need to be necessarily in lines with the ones of the state or the rules and regulations put forward by the latter.

The weak state, with moldable rules and regulations that are subject to interpretation and manipulation and little institutional traditions, is often a receptive place where non-traditional monitoring with low-cost, high-tech approaches can be tested in a supportive environment. However often in these circumstances, there emerges an entirely new problem which is related to the fact that new opportunities and technologies for data collection lay the foundation for more transparent water accounting and higher accountability, i.e. out-comes that are not necessarily at the top of the list of priorities of these agencies for the reasons mentioned above. 

Unless strong leadership inside the agency breaks this impasse and all the while that there exists a very conducive environment to anchor novel data acquisition and management approaches in such weak institutional environments, efforts in this direction are not necessarily to be expected to be successful as personalities and interests matter as much as the institutional aggregate in itself. 

Furthermore, even where there is strong will and leadership in this regard, any type of monitoring carries a price tag (see also next Section below). And these might in fact be non-negligible compared to existing budgets, even for low-cost monitoring campaigns that rely on data acquisition through local involvement, as we shall show in the next Section. 



The discussion above for state actors can be easily adjusted to include non-state actors too. True, in the non-governmental context, the compliance with existing measurement standards is not an issue since these measurement standards simply don’t exist at on-farm levels (unless they were agreed upon by a particular irrigation community under consideration). The case for increased transparency and water accountability rests in the hands of the personalities that constitute the governing body of the irrigation communities. The internal kitchens of the non-state actors might be characterized by wheeling and dealing with regard to the distribution of water on their territories and among their members. The informal rules, relying more on corruption and clientelism, present under such circumstances certainly do not favor the deployment and implementation of non-traditional measurement technologies (or any other technology that increases the understanding of where the water flows to).

Or, the internal kitchen might follow strict and transparent rules where the relationship between the irrigation community’s governing body and the base can be characterized by mutual trust and confidence. In such circumstances with sound management practices, the sheer participation in the communal effort and the support of it by end users via water fees often translates into numerous benefits that by far outweigh the cost of membership and the irrigation fees that the end users have to pay. It appears obvious that these would be example places where innovation technologies for non-traditional monitoring fall on receptive ground for trial and testing to start with and for long-term deployment to finish.

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