Justice in development? An analysis of water interventions in the rural South

Venot, J.P.J.N.; Clement, F.


This paper explores a fruitful convergence between the distributive and procedural dimensions of environmental justice theory and current debates in the field of development studies over capitals and capabilities, institutions, and discourse formation to shed new light on natural resource management projects in the developing world. Specifically, we document the planning and implementation of two types of water interventions in two contrasting regions: watershed development programmes in northeast India and small reservoirs in sub-Saharan West Africa. We find that there is a contradiction between the inherently political nature of water interventions and the fact that such projects remain grounded in apolitical, technical and managerial narratives. In contrast to the new semantic of development, this depoliticization results in the near absence of attention paid to procedural (participation and empowerment) and distributive (equity) justice concerns and in local actors having to revert to covert ways to achieve their ends. A constructive dialogue between development studies and environmental justice scholars can offer a fresh look on the society-environment nexus in the developing world