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Working Together: Research and Water Governance on Mount Kenya

 Researchers meet with pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Matteo Dell'Angelo
Researchers meet with pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Matteo Dell’Angelo

By Kate Weiss, The National Socio–Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)

Environmental social scientist Jampel Dell’Angelo and filmmaker Matteo Dell’Angelo recently co-directed a documentary film of Elinor Ostrom’s last research project. Working Together documents the challenges and successes of interdisciplinary research on smallholder climate adaptation and community water governance in semi-arid areas. The study found that involvement of all the river basin actors in a participatory way reduced social conflicts while providing more sustainable water allocation in the region. The film features water competition and governance in Kenya, which is a country that is innovative among developing countries for participatory water governance reforms.

A postdoctoral research fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), Jampel Dell’Angelo conducted over nine months of fieldwork on Mount Kenya as postdoctoral researcher at the Ostrom Workshop and coordinator of an interdisciplinary team on the U.S. National Science Foundation research project awarded to Elinor Ostrom. The film chronicles Elinor Ostrom’s last research project and can be found here: http://videos4water.org/.

The Dell’Angelo brothers worked on the project alongside an interdisciplinary science team that included social science researchers from Indiana University and hydrologists from Princeton University.

Jampel Dell’Angelo has a passion for science and scholarship that has the potential to inform decisions and improve public policies. He believes multimedia can provide a powerful and inspiring means for scientific storytelling to accomplish those goals. “It’s not often science makes an effort to communicate in a way that is entertaining and for larger audiences, and this documentary thanks to the involvement of my brother Matteo, makes that effort,” he says. “The film also documents the value of critical efforts to address emerging problems, such as the issues around climate change adaptation and water resources in Mt. Kenya, through real interdisciplinary research.”

Ostrom was the only woman in history to win a Nobel Prize in economics for her work on community natural resource management. Ostrom unfortunately passed away before her research team got to the field; but she was the principal investigator who received the grant from the National Science Foundation research featured in the video. http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/19578.html/

 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Jampel to discuss the documentary, the research conducted in Mt. Kenya, and the implications of this research.

In Working Together, Jampel Dell’Angelo and other researchers provide a glimpse into what happens when two teams of researchers combine efforts to gather important information on both human and natural systems. Here they learn about the water resource needs of villages and pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Matteo Dell’Angelo.
In Working Together, Jampel Dell’Angelo and other researchers provide a glimpse into what happens when two teams of researchers combine efforts to gather important information on both human and natural systems. Here they learn about the water resource needs of villages and pastoralists in the Mount Kenya region.
Photo by Matteo Dell’Angelo. Enlarge by clicking photo.

Q: In Working Together, you provide a glimpse into what happens when two teams of researchers work together to gather important information on both human and natural systems. With so much happening on the research end, how did you begin filming this as a research narrative?

Dell’Angelo: It began both as a desire to keep Elinor Ostrom’s legacy alive as well as a response to how, when I first arrived in Kenya, I was immediately touched with how much people were affected by and involved in managing water at a local level and how this really affected their lives. And all of this was happening in a scenery that was incredible and that had enormous ecological, cultural, and social variety. It was evident that this research was incredibly interdisciplinary and needed to account for an enormous amount of complexity. So, I thought, “Well, this is something that should be documented.”

Q: What were the main findings of the research?

Dell’Angelo: I think that one of the most interesting things we observed was that this system of community-water governance has a real impact on people and on how resources are allocated. We were working with 25 communities along five different river basins that had experienced increasingly elevated conflicts over water resources. This was really because the downstream users didn’t have a voice to articulate their discontent and frustration when they felt the up-stream users were withdrawing too much water. The transition over to a community-based water governance drastically reduced the level of conflicts between different users.

In terms of the main bio-physical findings, we found that, with climate change, what’s happening in the area isn’t that there’s less rainfall, but that the distribution of rain is changing. This is important, because there is a big difference between the same amount of rain falling in one month versus in six months. This has significant implications in terms of agricultural production and agricultural decision making. This raises questions of how people will adapt to these various changes in the future.

Q: Why is it important for both researchers and decision-makers to understand the human dynamics and climate impacts of Mt. Kenya’s water governance?

Dell’Angelo: Kenya is a little bit of a laboratory in terms of community irrigation schemes and community water management—they are pioneers in this new system of community water governance that’s also hugely affected by climate change, so they are on the front-line of new systems of governance in the face of climate change. Understanding what is happening in this area is hugely important in terms of generalizing knowledge for other areas in developing countries that face similar challenges.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this video?

Dell’Angelo: I hope people take away from this documentary a better understanding of the complexity and importance of interdisciplinary research when combined with local people and local knowledge. I think it is both a valuable resource for those interested in natural resources, sustainability, and development as well as for those who might be facing similar problems in their own communities. I hope this can be an educational and practical tool as well as an insight into a reality that many communities across the world face.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.