Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsPakistan: Farmers Manage and Police Irrigation Systems
Water theft in irrigation systems has been a chronicproblem in Pakistan. Successive governments have spentdecades attempting to solve the problem. Newly-formedfarmers’ organizations, with prompting from thegovernment, have come up with an effective solution:managing, policing, and owning their irrigation systems.
FORMING FARMERS’ ORGANIZATIONS
The rampant watertheft in Pakistan isslowly being erased asPakistan’s farmersband together andform Farmers’ Organizations (FOs)that effectivelyprevent the illegal useof communities’ waterresources.A policy shift to quash water crimes has also spurred thegovernment to establish the Punjab Irrigation andDevelopment Authority (PIDA) and Area Water Boards(AWBs), which function as regulatory bodies and promotethe communities’ ownership of irrigation systems. “The idea was to involve the people to tackle theseproblems, and it is working,” said Sajjad Siddiqui, whoheads the communications department at PIDA.A year after FOs and AWBs were established, a performanceevaluation of 85 farmer groups at Lower Chenab Canal(East) Circle in Faisalabad reports that most of the FOs havesucceeded in bringing the incidence of water theft tozero. Nobody steals irrigation water anymore.Furthermore, FOs and AWBs have become instrumental ingenerating revenues for water services. The averagerecovery of water tariffs has also grown to about 75%, asignificant increase compared to 52% when the governmentoperated the system.
CURBING WATER THEFT
Before, the public irrigation system in Pakistan was corrupt.Big-time farmers used more water than what they paid for.The poor did not get adequate water and, as a result,refused to pay for the service.Siddiqui noted that the problem intensified when somefarmers pulled down canal banks to let water flow into theirfields. Others, reported to be in collusion with irrigationdepartment officials, drained fields using pipes. Althoughtheft is punishable under the law, flouting the rules hadalmost become normal—people even took pride in stealingwater and cheating on tariffs. Siddiqui adds, “Practically noone owned the systems but everyone was using them.” When PIDA was formed in 1997 to promote participatoryirrigation management in Punjab province, it transferredirrigation management responsibilities to autonomous bodiesat three tiers—to the Provincial Irrigation and DrainageAuthority, to AWBs and to FOs.The management transfer was funded under the US$450million National Drainage Program, while the irrigationmanagement program is being funded entirely by theprovincial government.
PATROLLING IRRIGATION SYSTEMS
New institutions, suchas the PIDA and theAWBs, are thegovernment’s responseto the deterioration inirrigationmanagement, includingpoor maintenance. FOswere then placed incharge of policingfield-level distribution,controlling theft, resolving disputes, and collecting watertariffs. In return, they get to use 40% of the water tariffs tomeet operation and maintenance costs.People who take more than their share or steal are firstissued warnings and those that continue to do so after beingwarned are charged fines as high as 20 times the price of the stolen water. “If any one steals water, he deprives another farmer of hisrights and, believe me, no one is ready to let go of a singledrop of water from his share,” says Sagheer Ahmed,president of a farmer organization.Each farmer group has nine members elected by waterusers and must include three members from the mostdisadvantaged sections of the community. “Every FO isgiven water strictly in accordance with the collectiverequirement of areas under its jurisdiction,” Ahmed adds.