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Equal water sharing in scarcity conditions: the case of the Chaisombat Muang Fai Irrigation System in Thailand


With increasing water conflicts arising from competing demands and global climate changes, it has become paramount to understand how the available water resources can be judiciously utilized for sustaining life. This article extends the previous studies on equal water sharing in water-abundant conditions to water-scarce conditions. On the basis of a case study of the self-managed Chaisombat Muang Fai irrigation group in Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand, the article analyzes the factors that helped the group in successfully sharing water equally when they faced dry-season water scarcity caused by the competing demands of upstream irrigation systems. Interview data on Muang Fai development and management obtained from all levels of Muang Fai managers and field observations reveal three major success factors. First, Muang Fai managers across all levels recognized that water scarcity is a common problem and that, in their capacity as delegates accountable to all members, they must decide how intense competition for water and extensive crop failure can be prevented. Second, the Muang Fai organization provided a large number of farmers of diverse backgrounds with two-way communication and resilient implementation mechanisms for reaching a mutual agreement and synchronically adapting to a new water environment. Third, the group was ready to constantly update and employ socio-technical information to maximize the total benefit, so that all members obtain a proportionately larger share. These results reveal that in addition to social organization and traditional practices related to the normal condition, in the scarcity condition, it is essential to understand the “common” nature of the problem and acquire skills in extracting, updating, communicating, and using socio-technical information for decision making on equal water sharing. Therefore, these capacities should be built, or knowledge on building them should at least be developed, before the water scarcity problem worsens.

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This work is a continued study on equal water-sharing practices in different scenarios of water availability. The author acknowledges Prof. Dr. Masayoshi Satoh of the Graduate School of Life and Environmental Science, University of Tsukuba, Japan, for his ideas on equal water sharing, which he has jointly developed with the author in previous studies. The author is grateful to the Chaisombat Muang Fai members, Chiang Rai Irrigation Office, and Chiang Rai Cultural Office for generously devoting their time and providing information for the study.

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Correspondence to Tassanee Ounvichit.

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Ounvichit, T. Equal water sharing in scarcity conditions: the case of the Chaisombat Muang Fai Irrigation System in Thailand. Paddy Water Environ 9, 325–332 (2011).

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  • Water management
  • Water users’ organization
  • Rational choice
  • Water institution
  • Water scarcity
  • Muang Fai