Introduction Recent theoretical and policy-based attempts to delineate the role of water in development continue to conceptualize water scarcity as a primarily natural phenomenon and as a source of international or regional conflict, notwithstanding emerging critiques (e.g. Mehta 2005; Selby 2005). Less common in recent literature are intra-national analyses of the anthropogenic dimensions of water scarcity and the multi-scale policy and institutional frameworks through which water scarcity and water access are produced and regulated (Mehta 2007, 2005; Theesfeld 2004; Trottier 2008). National policies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) represent one such set of frameworks and offer an entry point for examination of the reworking at local and national level of global discourses and practices concerning water. They illuminate national government thinking on the role of water in achieving sustainability and alleviating poverty. These aims may be worked for through both MDG commitments and rightsbased approaches, wherein access to safe water as a basic human right underscores normative requirements for its effective and equitable distribution. However, the processes of effecting local and regional transformations in the water rights and access necessary for achievement of national targets typically remain opaque. Critical reading of national and supra-national policy statements illuminate discursive and practical struggles over the role of states, the private sector and local actors in water governance, especially with respect to water provision, access and mediation of scarcity (Trottier 2008). According to Castro (2007) mainstream neo-liberal policies favouring privatization of water supply and management have to date typically failed to deliver equity of access for the poor and thus present significant obstacles to the future achievement of the MDGs. Trottier (2008) argues that state-centric solutions are equally problematic, especially where embedded in technocratic, expert driven models of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). Both authors direct attention to the (at best) functional notions of participation deployed in mainstream policy solutions, which often eschew any meaningful engagement with local, socially embedded practices, priorities and values around water. To date, concerns over aggregate
water provision typically outweigh concerns over the political ecology of access in debates over the achievement of national water policy goals. The role of grassroots, ‘customary’ institutions and ‘communities’ in the creation and mediation of local water scarcity thus emerge as important lacunae in contemporary debates about water. Recent critiques of idealized notions of ‘community’ and group cooperation in devolved natural resource management suggest that an emphasis on community should by no means be seen as a panacea for inequitable resource rights and access (e.g. see Agrawal and Gibson 1999; Porter and Lyon 2006; Thorpe et al. 2005). Nonetheless, recent calls for a more critical examination of the politics of water provision and of the microscale processes which may support or confound realization of national policy goals suggest that attention to community-based practices may yield important critical insights (Selby 2005). This chapter is thus concerned with small-scale struggles over water access, the social creation of water scarcity and recent attempts to mediate and regulate scarcity through government and international development interventions, embedded in national water policies and MDG commitments. Following Mehta (2005, 2007), social or anthropogenic creation of scarcity refers to the complex array of political, social, cultural and institutional factors that shape and constrain water availability and access for particular local users, and may thus compel them to experience net scarcity, irrespective of hydrological (or ‘natural’) sufficiency. The chapter draws on case studies of Mongolian herders at three locations to examine differentiated histories of water rights and scarcity in the context of recent broader transformations in Mongolia’s pastoral sector and with reference to state and international developmental interventions. ‘Social’ as well as ‘natural’ causes of water scarcity, for example drought, are pertinent in these case study areas in the Gobi region. However, herders’ responses to increasing ‘natural’ scarcity are closely implicated in the reinforcement of socially mediated scarcity; both being shaped by changing, power-laden local norms and institutions and their evolution within the context of state and donor interventions. Thus, enhanced understanding of local social processes and the political ecology of water rights remain integral to debates over the realization of national goals and targets, even (or especially) in situations of growing ‘natural’ scarcity (Trottier 2008). The first section of this chapter assesses key aspects of contemporary and historical pastoralism in Mongolia. It explores the current and recent policy and legislative contexts of pastoral livelihood strategies with particular reference to the Millennium Development Goals, national land laws, international developmental discourses about land and to debates about water provision and scarcity. The next section focuses on two major international development projects and their commitments to group-based regulation of water supply. The third section of the chapter draws on empirical material from three case study areas to illuminate aspects of the micro-and meso-levels of the politics of water access amongst herding communities in contrasting regions. It highlights contemporary
water rights as embedded in evolving notions of custom and donor-driven institutional innovations, and as implicated in local conflicts and inequalities. The concluding section highlights the limitations of current policy approaches to water provision and the role of local transformations in mediating and compromising the achievement of national and international goals.