Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Pakistan: Farmers Manage and Police Irrigation Systems
August 2006

Water theft in irrigation systems has been a chronic problem in Pakistan. Successive governments have spent decades attempting to solve the problem. Newly-formed farmers’ organizations, with prompting from the government, have come up with an effective solution: managing, policing, and owning their irrigation systems. FORMING FARMERS’ ORGANIZATIONS The rampant water theft in Pakistan is slowly being erased as Pakistan’s farmers band together and form Farmers’ Organizations (FOs) that effectively prevent the illegal use of communities’ water resources. A policy shift to quash water crimes has also spurred the government to establish the Punjab Irrigation and Development Authority (PIDA) and Area Water Boards (AWBs), which function as regulatory bodies and promote the communities’ ownership of irrigation systems. “The idea was to involve the people to tackle these problems, and it is working,” said Sajjad Siddiqui, who heads the communications department at PIDA. A year after FOs and AWBs were established, a performance evaluation of 85 farmer groups at Lower Chenab Canal (East) Circle in Faisalabad reports that most of the FOs have succeeded in bringing the incidence of water theft to zero. Nobody steals irrigation water anymore. Furthermore, FOs and AWBs have become instrumental in generating revenues for water services. The average recovery of water tariffs has also grown to about 75%, a significant increase compared to 52% when the government operated 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 some farmers pulled down canal banks to let water flow into their fields. Others, reported to be in collusion with irrigation department officials, drained fields using pipes. Although theft is punishable under the law, flouting the rules had almost become normal—people even took pride in stealing water and cheating on tariffs. Siddiqui adds, “Practically no one owned the systems but everyone was using them.”

When PIDA was formed in 1997 to promote participatory irrigation management in Punjab province, it transferred irrigation management responsibilities to autonomous bodies at three tiers—to the Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authority, to AWBs and to FOs. The management transfer was funded under the US$450 million National Drainage Program, while the irrigation management program is being funded entirely by the provincial government. PATROLLING IRRIGATION SYSTEMS New institutions, such as the PIDA and the AWBs, are the government’s response to the deterioration in irrigation management, including poor maintenance. FOs were then placed in charge of policing field-level distribution, controlling theft, resolving disputes, and collecting water tariffs. In return, they get to use 40% of the water tariffs to meet operation and maintenance costs. People who take more than their share or steal are first issued warnings and those that continue to do so after being warned are charged fines as high as 20 times the price of the stolen water. “If any one steals water, he deprives another farmer of his rights and, believe me, no one is ready to let go of a single drop of water from his share,” says Sagheer Ahmed, president of a farmer organization. Each farmer group has nine members elected by water users and must include three members from the most disadvantaged sections of the community. “Every FO is given water strictly in accordance with the collective requirement of areas under its jurisdiction,” Ahmed adds.

SHARING COMMUNITY WATER When each farmer uses the recognized fair share of water, everyone, even those at the tail end of the irrigation system, will get water. PIDA officials said putting the management system in place was not easy especially because of some farmer groups’ opposition that found ways to beat the system. “We had to recruit social mobilizers to visit rural areas and explain the idea to locals. The system was introduced only after we convinced people of the benefits of participatory management,” says M. Aslam Qureshi, a PIDA official. The system has been so successful that other provinces have now begun following the path shown by Punjab.

_______________________________ Based on the article of Irfan Ahmed, Asia Water Wire journalist The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2006: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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