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Hydrosocial rupture: causes and consequences for transboundary governance

Michelle A. Miller, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Alfajri, Department of International Relations, Universitas Abdurrab
Rini Astuti, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Carl Grundy-Warr, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
Carl Middleton, Center of Excellence on Resource Politics for Social Development, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
Zu Dienle Tan, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
David M. Taylor, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore


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Unsustainable models of growth-based development are pushing aquatic ecologies outside known historical ranges and destabilizing human activities that have long depended on them. We develop the concept of hydrosocial rupture to explore how human-water resource connections change when they are exposed to cumulative development pressures. The research analyzes stakeholder perceptions of hydrosocial ruptures in two sites in Southeast Asia: (1) peatlands in Riau Province, Indonesia, and (2) Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. In both contexts, capital-driven processes have reconfigured human-water resource connections to generate transgressive social and environmental consequence that cannot be contained within administrative units or property boundaries. Our findings show how these ruptured hydrosocial relations are perceived and acted upon by the most proximate users of water resources. In Cambodia, a policy of resettlement has sought to thin hydrosocial relations in response to biodiversity loss, chronic pollution, and changing hydrology in Tonle Sap Lake. By contrast, in Indonesia’s Riau Province, efforts are underway to thicken human-water relations by hydrologically rehabilitating peatlands drained for agricultural development. We argue that in both of these contexts hydrosocial ruptures should be understood as phenomena of transboundary governance that cannot be addressed by individual groups of users, sectors, or jurisdictions.

Key words

hydrosocial relations; rupture; Southeast Asia; transboundary water governance

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087