Governance: Managing Water Resources for Sustainable Development

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TN Note: The article concludes that “legal and policy framework must be in place” and a “National Water Law and a regulatory body” should provide a “managed, bureaucratized, regulatory” and legal framework. In short, the UN intends to make water resources a major plank in its implementation of Sustainable Development around the world.

Together with droughts and technical issues, “crisis of governance” is the third critical dimension associated with managing water resources for sustainable development.

Irrigated agriculture takes up the largest share of water available, in Sri Lanka from where I will recount my experience from, it is reported that 88% of water use is in the irrigated agriculture and livestock (AQUASTAT-FAO Online 20015). Then, water governance issues are paramount in irrigation management. Addressing this as a holistic bottom –up process water governance typically covers political, social, economic and administrative systems in place to develop and manage water.

Irrigated agriculture in a majority of cases is in state constructed and operated irrigation systems where farmer organizations have some management tasks at or below the distributary canal of irrigation systems. So, this type of management is really joint management and governance issues must addressed this in a holistic framework.

District Development Committee

Beyond irrigated agriculture, major irrigation systems in Sri Lanka are the water source for, domestic use, ,the environment and even cottage industrial needs (often unaccounted for). Farmer organizations (multifunctional associations as it is in Sri Lanka) are better equipped for the task of monitoring and managing all water use at the local level. In Sri Lanka the legal charter for this organization is in the Irrigation Ordinance 1994 and the Agrarian Development Act 2000.

Training and monitoring of farmers to undertake water resources management in a holistic way in addition to their current tasks at the distributary canal (in Sri Lanka the legal persona of the farmer organization is anchored here) is one way of assuming responsibility and accountability for water use at this level. The conglomerate body of the farmer organization at the irrigation system is a consultative body to the agencies. Herein lays the first management gap. The system level farmer organization in Sri Lanka’s major irrigation systems can play a more active supervisory and regulatory role in governance jointly with the irrigation bureaucracy. Since the lower tier of the farmer organization, at the field channel is based on the village and homogeneity of kinship and other values, it can be self-supervised and regulated based on community values (done now informally anyhow).

Scaling upwards, all irrigation systems come under the administrative purview of the administrative district and the District Secretary. Times have changed and the functions of the District Secretary as the generalist coordinating a mufti-functional administrative system within the legal parameters of manifold ordinances from colonial times have changed. Given the policy support and political patronage from the centre and the districts, the capacity of the administrator is based on his or her ability to coordinate activities, for example, as the Chair of the District Agricultural Committee (all dimensions of water use and the government departments responsible for it come under the purview of this committee) and secondly under the more politicized District Development Committee.

Coordination defined as concerted action by different entities without loss of organizational identity is possible when it is a “composite of many elements, such as leadership, clearly stated and agreed objectives, effective planning.. and good personal working relationships among staff of different departments.” United Nations Public Administration Aspects of Community Development (1959: UNDP).

As I have researched this issue in Sri Lanka the success of this mechanism in the Kurunegala administrative district in 2009 hinged primarily on the leadership abilities of the district secretary supported by political will (in this case the chief minister of the province, and the central government), a form of management by results, incorporating task and time management resulted in documented success of coordination in areas including water duty for irrigation; environmentally sustainable home gardens, to controlling deforestation in the Ridi Bendi Ela irrigation system. Identifying optimal conditions for coordination through training, and monitoring of performance, together with some incentive based meritocracy needs to be explored at this level.

None other than Peter Drucker in The Harvard Business Review Special Collection (1968) in his article The Coming of the New Organization held this colonial model as having the potential for transformation into an information based modern organization.

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