Participation: NGOs and water user associations
An increasing number of private sector groups, including water
user associations and other NGOs, are taking over some public sector irrigation
responsibilities. The inclusion of water users in irrigation planning,
management and ownership is proving to be an effective method for increasing
irrigation system efficiency in many cases. Studies throughout the world
demonstrate that user participation in irrigation services improves access to
information, reduces monitoring costs, establishes a sense of ownership of
policy among farmers and increases transparency as well as accountability in
Water user associations are expected to increase in number and
importance over the next decade as the stress on self-reliance increases.
Already, governments are turning many aspects of public irrigation systems over
to water user associations. Well-documented examples can be seen in Argentina,
Colombia, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia. In
Indonesia, for example, the government had transferred more than 400 irrigation
systems, covering 34 000 ha, to water user associations by 1992. In the future,
as farmer financing becomes more commonplace, user groups will become even more
BOX 6: CHECKLIST OF SELECTED LEGAL ISSUES AND ATTENDANT
LEGISLATIVE REQUIREMENTS IN WATER POLICY REVIEW AND REFORM
1. Does the proposed policy comport with existing legislation
governing and regulating the use, development and conservation of water
resources and other related natural resources (e.g., land, forests and fish) and
the environment? If not, what changes will be required, at which hierarchical
level of lawmaking (i.e., constitutional, Act of Legislature, ministerial
regulation)? In particular:
1.1 Does the proposed regulatory policy of water abstraction and
use require a modification of the rights to use water held by individual or
corporate members of the public? If so, to what extent and under what guarantees
will such rights be made subject to change?
1.2 Does the proposed policy require a modification of the
powers or scope of authority of the governmental or paragovernmental bodies
responsible for water resources management and development, or for related
functions (i.e., public health preservation, environmental protection,
management of lands and forests, or conservation of wildlife)?
1.3 Does any proposed water charging policy require
· modification of legislation
conferring a non-economic status upon water?
· modification of the privileges enjoyed by given
users' groups, such as farmers?
2. Does the proposed policy require new legislation - as opposed
to amending legislation already in existence - to support it and, if so, what
will attendant substantive legislative drafting requirements be? In particular:
2.1 Does the proposed policy promote the privatization of water
services and, if so, what legat mechanisms will need to be written into the
required legislation to reconcile the profit motivation of privatized services
with the interest of the general public in dependable, up-to-standard and
affordable levels of services?
2.2 Does the proposed policy promote corporatizing public water
resources management and development bodies and, if so, what legal mechanisms
will need to be written into the required legislation to ensure public
accountability of the new corporate entities?
2.3 Does the proposed policy promote the transferability of
water through a market mechanism of water rights and, if so
· will water be transferable
separately from the land where it is used? and
· will transfers be free or controlled by the
NGOs can undertake a wide range of water-related functions, from
developing projects for rural water supplies and minor irrigation to fostering
water user associations for water management purposes. Some NGOs encourage
farmers to try new technologies, for example the catchment protection and
sprinkler irrigation techniques introduced by the Aga Khan Rural Support
Programme in Gujarat, India.
Many NGOs stem from local initiatives and operate as
independently funded and self-managed groups. These organizations bring fresh
views, new ideas and participatory working methods to other areas of development
policy and practice. Much of their success is attributed to their local
knowledge as well as their interest in and experience of regional conditions.
They have been particularity active in promoting the interests of poor and
disadvantaged groups through articulate and forceful advocacy and service
The local base of NGOs may allow them to reach vulnerable or
remote groups which are exceptionally difficult to reach with conventionally
conceived and managed public schemes. With their close local contacts and skills
in group mobilization and cohesion, NGOs can provide the institutional
leadership required to bring about socially acceptable solutions, and in some
cases (e.g., the Philippines) serve as community organizations.
BOX 7: LEGAL. PREREQUISITES IN IRRIGATION MANAGEMENT
As pressures on water resources and public finances increase,
legal and administrative systems need to respond to the new requirements. This
process includes a number of legal and institutional issues.
Water rights security: a reliable quantity and
flow of water of suitable quality, and protection from pollution, are basic
requirements for irrigation development. The issue of legal security has been
evolving from existing or potential water conflicts and is addressed through
legal mechanisms for conflict resolution. Security of water rights is, however,
also required for non-conflicting situations related to market transactions,
such as the commercial transfer of water rights among users or when using water
rights as collateral for bank credits. Water rights titles, through certain and
clear legal instruments, we critical to prevent conflict and to stimulate market
mechanisms for enhanced efficiency in water use.
Customary legal rules and practices need to be
recognized in statutory law as they are significant, especially in the rural
context, for regulating access to water and settlement of water conflicts. The
traditional informal approaches are important, since formal resolution of
conflicts through litigation in courts of law is often risky, expensive and
inconsistent with local culture.
Water allocation to different users is normally
effected through water licences, which should allow an adequate level of
flexibility while preventing or minimizing water conflicts. When
previously-licensed water is re-allocated to higher-valued uses (e.g., shifted
from agricultural to industrial water uses), legal mechanisms that regulate
re-allocation and define the compensation to displaced licence holders are
Transferability of water use rights is
particularly important for irrigation, so as to encourage investment in
water-saving practices and permit alternative, higher-value uses of the saved
water. However, to curb speculation in water rights, especially when water is
scarce, irrigation water is commonly considered to be appurtenant to the
irrigated land. Purely market-driven transfer systems are rare, and actual
practices, to be consistent with public policy objectives and water plans, are
often limited to transfers under the direct control of government water
Establishment of security of land tenure and of
ownership rights, with land reform and redistribution in response to objectives
of social justice, offer the opportunity to replace forms of tenure such as
tenancy and sharecropping, which inhibit development and hinder the efficient
and sustainable use of irrigated land. To support the transition from
traditional to modem agriculture, legal mechanisms are required for a gradual
transition from customary rights into modern and tradable titles.
Cost recovery is often restricted by legal and
institutional obstacles such as farmers' exemption to levies, charges and
service fees. inadequate authority to collect and enforce the charges, and lack
of budgetary and institutional mechanisms to keep collected revenues in the
irrigation subsector. Within the same objective of retrenchment of government's
responsibilities, proper legal authority and enabling institutions should be
established to transfer government responsibility to the users. The extent of
the transfer of physical irrigation works to the users or their retention by the
government, and the terms and the conditions for their use. need to be
regulated. Users' groups need to be legally established and to be tailored to
the scope of the functions of the users' associations.
Control of water pollution from irrigation raises
legal issues on how much legitimate property rights of cultivators can be
restricted, in relation to land under cultivation and agricultural practices and
whether and what kind of compensation should be given.