An Introduction to Water Tenure

This brief is designed to help USAID Missions, Operating Units, and implementing partners understand the concept of water tenure in the context of programs that seek to improve food and water security and address climate change. The brief highlights how incorporating water tenure considerations can contribute to improving water resource governance and management.

The concept of water tenure is relatively new, with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) initiating discussions on the topic in 2013 at an expert consultation on water governance and the role of tenure and rights in coping with agricultural water scarcity. Following the consultation, FAO published a discussion paper in 2016, which conceptualized water tenure as, “the relationship, whether legal or customarily defined, between people, as individuals or groups, with respect to water resources.” Water tenure focuses on the use of freshwater resources from both groundwater and surface water bodies, like rivers and streams.

Further Reading