Struggling for water security: Social mobilization for the defence of water rights in Peru and Ecuador

In the Andes secure access to water is essential for peasant and indigenous communities, their livelihoods and their environmental systems. With mounting pressure on water resources, it is often the rights of these socio-economically and politically marginalized groups that are imperilled.

Programme summary

In response communities often have engaged in various individual and collective actions to protect their water security, mostly at the local level. Recently, new, community-rooted multiscalar networks of water user organizations have developed that challenge the dominant legal and institutional arrangements. These innovative platforms emerge through the organizational consolidation of socio-political local spaces and places in the water management sector, and may link hundreds of local water user organizations. This research aims to study the emergence, development and achievements of these new institutions in Peru and Ecuador, focusing on: a) how to understand these movements in a context of IWRM and b) how to strengthen and stimulate such user-based developments that are struggling for water security for the marginalized water users.

The research focuses on the following question:

How to understand the historical evolution and current development of new supra-local water user federations, in terms of their strategies, organizational practices and political significance for defending water security of peasant and indigenous communities in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador?

This programme considers emerging up-scaling initiatives of indigenous and peasant organizations around water as holding important theoretical and practical lessons, or potentialities, for democratic and socially just water management, and conceives of them as integrated water management in-the-making. As such this research expects to contribute to the development of theory about social movements and their role in integrated water resource management and water governance, with a special focus on equity, poverty alleviation and healthy environmental systems.

It will contribute to improved understanding of (1) the role social movements can play in creating water security for the poor and the environment, (2) how local actions are or can be articulated into water centered social mobilization movements; (3) the changing meanings of formal water policies, law, water rights and water security in relation to increasing scales in a setting of polycentric water governance. The research will be done in close collaboration with the grass-roots movements and will feed into and closely collaborate with the existing inter-Andean and international water-networks and will be used to support ongoing exchange and capacity building initiatives.


The programme is worked out through the following four PhD researches and researchers:

  1. Andres Verzijl: Securing water rights and livelihoods: The challenges of supra-community networks in Peru
  2. Jaime Hoogesteger: Contesting water territories: Social movements and collective action to defend water rights in the Ecuadorian Andes
  3. Milagros Sosa Landeo: Mines or minorities? Water management and social mobilization within Peruvian mining contexts
  4. Rossana Manosalvas: Protecting the Paramo: Social mobilization for environmental conservation in the Ecuadorian Andes

The project is closed, but actively continuing in terms of action research collaboration, dissemination activities and policy/social relevance spin-off. In particular through transdisciplinary, North-South cross-cultural collaboration in the WRM-coordinated Water Justice alliance.