Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Joe Bryan

Second Advisor

William Travis

Third Advisor

Lorraine Bayard de Volo

Abstract

In a country that is internationally praised for its recent economic success, how has the decentralized government of Bolivia left the responsibility to the local department in securing their own basic human needs? Is the disconnection beneficial in that it provides communities with a propitious autonomy? Or does a decentralized government provide benefits for both national and local sectors? This project demonstrates the benefits and drawbacks of a decentralized Bolivian government that has intended to rely on the role of small-scale grassroots organizations and NGO’s to fill the sobering gap between state and local governments.

Using an urban political-ecology approach, this study investigates the socio-hydroscape in Cochabamba, Bolivia. By tracing the metabolic patterns of water in and out of the city, revealing the tensions in power-relations regarding an uneven distribution of resources, a very concentrated conflict in the city becomes increasingly apparent. I argue that this conflict is posited by larger, overarching state policies that have allowed them to persist. Major political reform implemented during the height of Bolivia’s neoliberal era has given historically oppressed communities their long-sought autonomy from the state, while simultaneously producing a market-based system converting water into a commodity. These state policies have jointly manifested a seemingly perfect scenario for improving the lives of marginalized groups, but in reality continues to hinder communities dependent on private networks and grassroots organizations known as water-committees to acquire potable water. The state-to-urban inconsistencies create a paradox forcing all Bolivianos to become subjects in the central government's political discourse.