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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.

Bangladesh: Rural Water Institutions Flex Muscles for Sustainability


August 2008

By Cezar Tigno ADB Web Writer Bangladeshs rural water sector has been flexing its muscle for yearsits institutions trying to keep in shape to better manage water resources while ensuring that water needs of rural communities are met. Could they complete their transformation into stronger, more robust water institutions? FLEXING RURAL WATER MUSCLES In a country where over 80% of the population lives in rural communities and agriculture provides 63% of employment, water resources management is bound to be a development challenge. But Bangladesh, one of the worlds poorest countries, has figured out a way to meet this challenge head on. Since 1995, Bangladesh has been building up the atrophied muscles of its rural water sector through a series of ADBsupported small-scale water resources (SSWR) development projects. The first phase, implemented from 1996 to 2002, developed 280 subprojects in the western half of the country, while the second phase, begun in 2002 with scheduled completion in June 2009, is expected to develop around 285 subprojects in 61 of the countrys 64 districts. Each of the subprojects brings improves water resources management, especially for the poor, and offers essential support to agricultural and fish production rural communities primary livelihoods. But Bangladeshs efforts do not stop there. In December 2007, ADB and the Government embarked on a US$600,000 Technical Assistance (TA) project in preparation for a follow-on, 3rd phase Participatory Small-Scale Water Resources Project, primarily to address institutions sustainability. The projects aim is to cull the lessons learned during the first two phases of SSWR development projects and incorporate them into the design of the 3rd phase. SHAPING UP COMMUNITIES I think that Bangladesh has done very well in the use of the cooperative models, says Yasmin Siddiqi, the ADB Water Resources Management Specialist in charge of the TA, as she highlights how Water Management Cooperatives Associations (WMCAs) serve as building blocks for managing Bangladeshs rural water resources. Anybody who is a user of the water or has an interest in water in any form within the boundaries of the subproject area can become a member of the cooperative, Yasmin added. WMCAs are legal entities that serve as entry point for development interventions. They are open organizations in that they do not bar the landless from participating or becoming members. Like most community-based organizations, they need support from inception until they can stand alone. While a number of WMCAs have taken off the groundsome have even successfully implemented water resources development projects such as drainage improvement activitiesmany still face a number of challenges. These include inadequate construction practices, poor fund management, ineffective leadership, and poor operation and maintenance of water resources management systems. We can attribute the poor performance of some WMCAs to the short circuiting or bypassing of specific stages of the subproject development process, Yasmin said. Shes referring to a systematic and rigorous process with 35 welldefined steps. The participatory process enhances the transparency of the decision making process and facilitates quality control.. A number of WMCAs have not continued to strengthen as community based organizations because of weak foundations, often poor leadershipsome have begun water infrastructure construction before realizing this weakness, often leading to poor operation and.maintenance practices. To help strengthen WMCAs, the project ensurea stakeholder driven approach with local communities identifying their potential needs. Allowing project beneficiaries to identify subprojects will quickly contribute to the WMCAs sustainability, because if its a self-generated interest from within the community, you have a better chance of a cohesive WMCA, Yasmin added.

FULL BODY WORKOUT Apart from the WMCAs, the TA also targets improving the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), whose task is to oversee subprojects, and its Integrated Water Resources Management Unit (IWRMU). Since the implementation of Phases 1 and 2 of SSWR development projects, LGED has substantially strengthened its capacity through the creation of additional technical posts specifically to provide closer interaction and coordination at the field level. It has increasingly been decentralized, and the TA finds this helpful, in that LGED does not micromanage at the field level, and that beneficiary communities remain responsible for decision making. The establishment of LGEDs IWRMU during the 2nd phase is part of LGEDs decentralization. The IWRMU was envisioned to provide specific support to WMCAs, particularly for system operation and maintenance. It is responsible for the planning, design, operations and maintenance, and monitoring and evaluation of subprojects to harmonize the participatory development process. According to the TAs workplan, LGED and other partner line agencies will provide WMCAs with a multi-dimensional package of support services ranging from direct engineering support and interventions to a suite of agricultural, fisheries, cooperatives extension advice. This would establish closer linkages between WMCAs and partner line agencies. One important agency is the Department of Cooperatives, which is increasingly overwhelmed by the number of WMCAs that need their support. They have little experience in understanding water management cooperatives and lack mobility in the field. This will receive support for institutional strengthening under the Participatory Small Scale Water Resources Project. KEEPING IN SHAPE Bangladeshs rural water sector institutions have their work cut out for them. Key challengesfrom flooding, water shortages, and environmental degradationstill abound, aggravated by inadequate water management infrastructure, limited beneficiary participation, and weak operation and maintenance. Increasing urbanization and expansion of fish production on agricultural land is expected to result in absolute decline of agricultural land by 1.64 million hectares by 2050. Yields will need to increase annually by 20% to compensate for the loss of agricultural land.

Effective water management and equitable access to water are critical for the production base and livelihoods of the rural poor. It is to this end that WMCAs, LGED, the IWRMU, and other partner agencies are doubling efforts in making themselves formidable and robust water sector institutions. RELATED LINKS Bangladesh: Small-scale Water Resources Development Bangladesh: Small-scale Water Resources Development II Bangladesh: Small-scale Water Resources Development III

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2008: http://www.adb.org/Water/actions/ban/Rural-WaterInstitutions.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADBs 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 ADBs Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.