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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: October 2015

Chapter 5 - Analyzing Institutional Failures and Fragilities


The empirical cases presented so far have been success stories. Given the presumption of failure that characterizes so much of the policy literature, it is important to present examples of success. Now the time has come to examine several cases of outright failure and cases in which the institutions designed by appropriators are in a fragile condition.

Near Alanya, Turkey, where fishers were able to establish their own set of rules for regulating inshore fisheries, there are two other fishing areas whose fishers have failed to establish effective rule systems – Bodrum and the Bay of Izmir. Both suffer severe problems of overcrowding and rent dissipation. In San Bernardino County, California, groundwater pumpers are still facing overdraft conditions even after they initiated litigation and created a special district. The institutional arrangements described in Chapter 4 that helped nearby basins solve CPR problems did not work as effectively when applied to a region rather than to a basin.

In another part of the world, Sri Lankan fishers, who had devised an ingenious system for rotating access to an inshore fishery, found themselves unable to enforce an additional rule to prevent the entry of new appropriators. The rotation system continues to spread the risk involved in an uncertain environment across all participants. With too many appropriators, however, the profits obtained by local fishers have steadily declined as rents have been dissipated.

In the interior of Sri Lanka, central-government authorities and donor countries have invested large sums in the reconstruction of major irrigation systems. To work successfully, these systems need the active cooperation of the farmers to schedule and manage water use so as to minimize wastage. National officials have altered the administrative structures of these systems several times without succeeding in obtaining farmer cooperation in implementing rules to allocate water to minimize overuse. The Sri Lankan experience with the reluctance of farmers to invest time and effort to enhance the productivity of a centrally managed system has been repeated in many diverse forms throughout South and Southeast Asia. In some cases, centralized efforts to reform the structure of a system have led to worse problems. However, an experimental project to organize farmers from the ground up, without an organizational blueprint, has produced a reversal of that problem in one large Sri Lankan irrigation system.

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Governing the Commons
  • Online ISBN: 9781316423936
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