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Asias Large-Scale Irrigation Systems: Challenges and Options

Akhtar Ali
Session 2: Evolution of Irrigation Services and Organizational Reform Introduction Large scale irrigation systems (LSIS) play an important role in meeting the food demands of Asia. They will continue to be relevant as they: (i) bring large areas under water services, thus stabilizing food production for the fastest growing population in the 19th century, (ii) stabilize yield by bridging the gap of rainfall variability in spatial and temporal dimensions, (iii) leverage the storage from large water reservoirs to reduce the impact of flood and drought and enable additional benefits from hydropower generation and flow regulation control, (v) contribute to shallow groundwater recharge, and (vi) drive the development of institutions for effective operation and management. However, major changes are needed to transform the LSIS to become more responsive to needs of farmers and changing context of water delivery service. This briefing paper highlights (i) the main challenges LSIS face and (ii) the main options available to overcome those challenges. It focuses on technical aspects and addresses the needs of irrigation managers and decision-makers. Key Issues and Major Challenges More food from increasingly constrained natural resources From 2000 to 2050, food demand in Asia is projected to increase 151% in South Asia, 104% in East Asia and 120% in Central Asia (De Fraiture, 2009). Doubling food output during this period will be required from increased productivity of land and water and limited expansion of agriculture area. Mukherji, et al. (2010) reported that by 2050 (i) cropped area in South Asia is expected to increase between 3% and 18%, for East Asia, 10% and 34%, and for Central Asia, 21% and 53%, and (ii) crop water depletion is expected to increase between 13% and 36% for South Asia, 10% and 43% for East Asia, and 20% and 55% for Central Asia. However, land and water resources are shrinking and downstream flows of many Asian rivers and volumes of freshwater lakes have been drastically reduced and some streams no longer reach the sea year-round. Reduced downstream flows in Central Asia caused the shrinking of Aral Sea. Land DegradationDrainage and Salinization Decades of irrigation in the absence of proper drainage has resulted in water logging and salinization of large areas of farm land. In South Asia, 140 million hectares or 43% of the regions total agricultural land are affected by some form of degradation. Of this total, 31 million hectares were strongly degraded and 63

million hectares moderately degraded (FAO, UNDP and UNEP 1994), in some , countries up to 75% of the agricultural land. Persistent neglect has increased the land drainage need up to 10-15 million hectares or 10% to 50% of the total irrigated area. Salinity costs the worlds farmers US$ 11 billion annually in terms of reduced income (WRI, 2000). Annual agriculture loss in Pakistans two provinces Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhaw was reported as US$300 million due to decreased farm production (Ghassemi et al., 1995). FAO, UNDP and UNEP (1994) reported that the South Asia loses about US$10 billion annually (or 2% of the regions GDP or 7% of the value of its agricultural output) due to land degradation. Declining Water Quality and Quantity Water quality of main rivers and freshwater lakes in Asia has declined due to agricultural, domestic and industrial waste disposal. In Pakistan, for example, over nine million cubic meters per day of untreated sewage is being discharged to surface water bodies (Pak-SCEA, 2006). Yamuna, the most polluted river in India, receives direct drainage from 16 urban centers and 81 industries between its source and Delhi (Panwar, 2009). Ministry of Environmental Protections (MEP), People Republic of China in 2009 reported that among the 408 river sections monitored, the water quality of more than 40% was unsafe for human consumption and about 18% unsafe for any use (ADB, 2011). Annual water availability per capita in three Asian countriesChina (2,259 m3), India (1,880 m3) and Pakistan (1,450 m3) is less than one-quarter of the World average of about 8000 m3. Water availability per capita and agricultural water share per capita is declining due to increase in population and diversion of water to other sectors. Water storage per capita is also low and declining due to reservoir sedimentation. Pakistans storage capacity is 150 m3 per capita as compared with China (2200 m3), Australia (5000 m3) and USA (5000 m3). Pakistan can store a flow of about 30 days as compared with India (220 days), South Africa Orange River (500 days) and Colorado and Murray Darling Rivers (900 days) (Brisco and Qamar, 2005). Most of the transboundary and interstate rivers in Asia experience challenges of water shortages, pollution and disputes between upstream and downstream users.1 Poor Performance of LSIS Most of the LSIS in Asia are underperforming and unable to provide reliable water supplies due to several weaknesses. 1) Most of them are 50100 years old and have outlived their design life and suffered from flood damages. Chronic shortage of funding for their operation and maintenance contribute to rapid deterioration. These systems are at a high risk of failure and require major replacement, rehabilitation

Examples include Mekong (China, Louse, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand), Ganges (India and Bangladesh), Indus (India and Pakistan) and Amu Darya (Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) rivers.



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and upgrading. For example, failure of any barrage in the Indus basin can deprive millions of ha of agricultural land water for multiple crop seasons. This means high economic and environmental costs and endangered livelihood of millions of people who depend on these systems. Many LSIS were designed using technology now outdated and do not fulfill the requirements of a modern agricultural production system or for sustainability. The systems are failing the challenges of drainage and salinity, and the need to increase agricultural and water use productivity. The LSIS have an inherited problem of inequitable water distribution to downstream users because of poor design and inadequate system management. These design and management problems reduce water availability downstream of the command areas and thus limit production in those areas. The LSIS do not have the necessary operational flexibility to manage conjunctive use of groundwater or water logging and salinity. They are unable to meet the farmers present day water requirements resulting from crop diversification and intensification. As a result, their service areas are shrinking. Mukherji et al, (2010) reported that the irrigation service area shrank by more than 5.5 million ha in India and Pakistan in 1994 and 2003 due to poor performance of LSIS. Many systems depend on upstream storage. Diminishing storage capacity in reservoirs will be a major concern for water availability in future. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the institutions created to run many large systems at the time of development centered on a public sector topdown approach that kept the farmers/beneficiaries out of the decisionmaking process.

Low Water and Land Productivity Decades of irrigation in the absence of proper drainage has resulted in water Considering the water scarcity and reduced share of water for agriculture in the future, water productivity (the amount or value of product over volume or value of water depleted or diverted) is a relevant indicator of water management. Many LSIS have problems of low water and land productivity.2 Groundwater Groundwater provides 30% of the worlds irrigation supply, 40% in Pakistan and 60% in some Indian States (FAO, 2003). The LSIS contributed to recharging
2 Sharma et al. (2009) estimated water productivity of wheat-rice based system (wheat 70%; rice 26%) from data from ten Indian states, which showed a high variation from 0.36 kg/m3 in Madhya Pardesh to 1.01 kg/m-3 in Punjab with an average value of 0.61 kg/m-3. Rice yields in the Lower Mekong Basin range from 1.0 ton per ha to more than 5.0 ton per ha, with the highest yields in the delta region of Viet Nam, moderate yields in some parts of Lao PDR and the Viet Nam highlands and the lowest yields in Cambodia and northeast Thailand (Mainuddin and Kirby, 2008). Cai and Rosegrant (2003) showed that a low water productivity of rice (ranges from 0.15 to 0.60 kg/m3) as compared other cereals (ranges from 0.2 to 2.4 kg/m3). China and some South-East Asian countries have a higher water productivity for rice, ranging from 0.4 to 0.6 kg/m3; as compared to the average of the developed world of 0.47 kg/m3. For other cereals, water productivity is lower than 0.4 kg/m3 in South and Central Asia, northern and central sub-Saharan Africa; it is 1.01.7 kg/m3 in China, the USA and Brazil; and 1.72.4 kg/m3 in Western European countries.

Pakistans fresh groundwater zone of about 4.4 million ha, which provided irrigation supplies for decades. Rapid growth of groundwater wells in past 34 decades in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan caused uncontrolled water abstraction and groundwater mining at a rate of 13 m per year (Roy and Shah, 2002). Groundwater resources are under serious threat and if not addressed or reversed will lead to: (i) complete depletion, (ii) saline-water intrusion and land and water quality degradation, (iii) low water and land productivity, and (iv) land subsidence and/or desertification. Reshaping the LSIS Future Preserve and Modernize the Existing LSIS The LSIS require continuing investment in maintenance to ensure structural safety and water delivery services. They also require modernizing to enable better operational management. Investments in seepage prevention in saline aquifer areas will be required. However, seepage in freshwater areas that contributes to shallow groundwater may not be needed. Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have already started to refurbish LSIS with the assistance of World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and others. However, many other candidate systems wait for government action and/or financing. Improving these systems will result in more reliable and equitable irrigation water delivery to the large tracts of agricultural land, secure livelihood of millions of farming families and reduced risks of failure for another 34 decades. Increasing upstream water storage for a reserve of 100 days or more will ensure water availability for at least a single cropping season. Reshape LSIS to Accommodate Demand-Driven Water Requirements By design, many LSIS are supply-driven and it may not be possible to completely transform them to demand-driven systems. However, for more flexible operations a hybrid solution may work, including: (i) creating off-channel and on-farm storages, (ii) using shallow aquifers as storage and (iii) introducing water allocation by volume of water rather than flow time. Off-channel storage and on-farm ponds may encourage farmers investments in labor, seed, and land preparation, using more advanced technologies and practices. Evidence shows that in certain systems water delivery in the tail canal reaches is reduced by 20% compared to head reaches. While excess water use in head reaches results in both water logging and salinity in those areas it is also responsible for the water shortages toward the tail. Developing a policy to reduce deliveries in head reaches to an appropriate level and increase the tail reaches deliveries by the same amount. Will the governments be ready to take such a difficult decision? Increase Investment in Drainage Except for some piecemeal successes in water logging and salinity control, systematic and effective drainage has largely been neglected and drainage investment has been inadequate. Some estimates show that saving an irrigated ha

through affording proper drainage (US$1000 per ha) is six times less expensive than creating a new irrigated ha (US$6000). In Asia, increased investment in drainage is needed in Indus basin in Pakistan, Yellow River basin in China, Mekong River basin in Thailand and Vietnam and throughout Central Asia. Probably, there is no choice other than significant investment in agricultural drainage, both surface and sub-surface as the case may be. Are the governments ready to include this issue in their high priority agenda? Manage Groundwater Sustainably Current groundwater use in many areas of Asia is not sustainable. Subsidy on the electricity tariff (India) and flat electricity rates (Pakistan) provided incentives for farmers to carry out excessive pumping resulting in inefficient use of the groundwater resource. Evidence shows that groundwater is better used with diesel operated pumps rather than electric pumps. Groundwater regulations should be effectively implemented to ensure that (i) pumping from the saline water aquifers for irrigation is not allowed, and (ii) pumping in freshwater zones is limited to the annual recharge rate. The farmers should be encouraged and assisted to use the groundwater for high value crops with efficient water use technologies. Improve Water and Land Productivity The developing world is producing more than twice as much food as it did fifty years ago, while the net global cultivated area has grown only by 12%, largely due to plant breeding. FAO (2011) showed that world food production could increase over the next forty years by 70% (and double in developing countries). Zwart and Bastiaanssen (2004) showed that a large range of crop water productivity (1.09 kg/m3 for wheat, 1.09 kg/m3 for rice, 0.65 kg/m3 for cotton seed, 0.23 kg/m3 for cotton lint and 1.80 kg/m3 for maize) offers tremendous opportunities for maintaining or increasing agricultural production by more than 200%. Fischer et al., (2010) showed a yield gap and therefore improvement potential varying from 11% to 66% in different Asian regions. Genetic engineering and bio-technology are searching solutions for tackling drought and salinity tolerance issues (FAO, 2003c). Water efficient technologies are available. However, these technologies have not been often disseminated and adopted. The question is are governments ready to increase investments in on-farm water and agricultural management for improved water and land productivity? Expand Irrigation Wherever Opportunities Exist South Asias withdrawal of up to 36% of its renewable water resources is already touching a threshold limit of 40%. This indicates little potential for further expansion unless significant water savings from existing systems are realized. On the other hand, Southeast Asia withdrawal is at only 2% of its renewable water resource. This indicates a high potential for further expansion given that the arable lands are available and national priorities support the initiative.

Continuous growth of economies and climate change are likely to impact land and water uses and cropping systems. Therefore, all new LSIS should be planned, built and operated considering the gaps within a governance regime that embodies social justice, is transparent and participatory (Dore et. al.2005). Investment Requirements Given the broad-based benefits,3 irrigation and drainage in Asia will continue to expand but at a significantly slower rate than in the 1900s. Projections show that the irrigated area will increase from 80.5 million ha in 1998 to 95.0 million ha in 2030 in South Asia and 71.5 million ha to 85.3 million ha in East and South East Asia, about 1819 % increase in the three decades (FAO, 2003). Overall, irrigation systems will require about US$700900 per hectare for rehabilitation and $2600 2900 per ha for new development. With this scenario in view, an investment requirement of about US$192 billion for Asia excluding Central Asia is estimated to 2030. Governments in Asia will be unable to fund such investment. Will the international donors and financing institutions fill the investment gap given many failed irrigation projects in the past? Of the 33 ADB water projects4 completed from 1995 to 2008, only 18% were rated highly successful and 61% successful (ADB, 2011). Reasons for this low success rate need to be clearly established to avoid the same mistakes in future investments. Conclusion Irrigation alone cannot bring about the required increases in production without tackling the related problems of drainage, water logging and salinity. Inadequate attention was given to this issue in the past. However, drainage can no longer be treated as a separate entity to irrigation and has a particular importance in LSIS. The Asian DMCs should prepare holistic drainage plans for each LSIS and implement them on a priority basis. Donor and international financing institution support will be required in this massive undertaking. The potential for development of new LSIS is considerably limited in terms of both land and water resources. However, feasible new LSIS should be studied, planned, built and operated as appropriate to further address the rapidly growing demand for food and fiber in Asia and throughout the world. Farmer participation, efficient and technically competent institutions and effective water governance are the keys to success of both existing and new LSIS.

Increased productivity, rural labor, promotion of local agro-enterprises and development of roads, education and health services are needed for the changing way of life in rural areas. 4 Water projects are mix of irrigation, flood management, water supply and sanitation.

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