The contestation and appropriation of water is not new, but recent global debates on and grabbing are bringing increased attention to a water perspective in these discussions. Water grabbing takes place in a field that is plural-legal, both locally and globally. Formal law has been fostering grabs, both in land and water.
Meanwhile, today’s formal water and land management have been separated from each other – an institutional void that makes encroachment even easier. Ambiguous processes of global water and land governance have increased local level uncertainties and complexities. Powerful players can navigate their ways through such uncertainties, making them into mechanisms of exclusion for poor and marginalised people.
As in formal land management, corporate influence has grown in water management. For less powerful players, resolving ambiguities in conflicting regulatory frameworks may require tipping the balance in favour of the most congenial one. Yet compared to land governance, global water governance is today relatively less contested from an equity and water justice perspective, even though land is fixed, while water is fluid and part of the hydrological cycle – and therefore water grabbing potentially affects greater numbers of diverse water users.
Water grabbing can be a powerful entry point for contestation, which is needed to build counterweights to the neoliberal corporate business led convergence in global resource governance discourses and processes. Elaborating a human right to water in response to water grabbing is urgently needed.