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Benefits of Sustainable Water Management in Bangladesh

Food security and surface water management has become a critical need in Bangladesh because of growing demand of food and water. With vision of enhancing food production and employment generation, Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) Bangladesh gets involved at local level surface water management in 1962. As an apex public organization, LGED performs overall planning and management of surface water at local level by confirming people participation. With past experience, LGED started participatory Small Scale Water Resources Development Sector Project (SSWRDSP) in 1995 and built about 580 sub-projects where stakeholder’s involvement in decision making process has become an integral part of sustainable development in surface water management.

The purpose of the paper is to explore the potential contributions of sustainable surface water management in socio-economic development through food production and employment generation at the rural level. It reviews relevant external secondary data sources and internal SSWRDSPs which include sub-project based field data obtained for formulation, implementation, and performance evaluation of SSWRDSPs. Primary sources included extensive field visits, household survey and sub-project beneficiary and Water Management Cooperative Association (WMCA) interviews. Transcripts of field visit, field notes, and relevant literature are analyzed on the basis of themes, patterns and data’s of interrelationships among those that addressed the research goal. To ensure true reflection, quantity and quality of data gets highest degree of priority. It is found that well-designed management of surface water resources is vital and essential in ensuring food security and rural employment.

1. Introduction

Peoples in the developing countries are in emergency of essentials—food and water, shelter, energy and health although the scenario is quite opposite in the developed nations where the people are facing the difficulties of affluence (Roome, 2002).To attain the food demands of 2050, food production is needed to increase by 3 times. Historically agricultural production is the most suitable way of food production and only that can provide better diets for the people all over the worlds (Avery, 2002).To meet the controversy on the sustainable way of food production this paper tried to established that the participatory approach in surface water management is the most sustainable way of using surface water to increase agricultural production as well as the food production for the future. Now, sustainable food production as well as food for everyone’s is a global demand.

A rising population of Bangladesh with declining agricultural land has put the country’s future food security at risk, especially when salinity in the coastal belt, and droughts and depleting underground water level in the north have become constant realities (Palma, 2010). According to a projection of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics the country’s population will be 170 million by 2020 (BBS, 2001; Population Council, 2010).

Bangladesh currently has 8.44 million hectares of cultivable land, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. With 1 percent decrease of arable land due to building of new houses, industrialization, and urbanization — the cultivable land area will come down to a little more than 7.0 million hectares in 2020 (MoA, 2007a). Bangladesh had to import nearly 2.0 million tons of food grains in the last fiscal year on top of around 30 million tons of rice and wheat produced domestically (Palma, 2010). These factors might lead to a decrease in productivity as was projected by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007).

Though presently the situation of food security appears quite satisfactory, but the scenario was significantly different in past and also its future may not look the same due to increasing population and climatic changes. In 1971-1972 the area under rice production was 9,278.00 thousand hectare and the production was 9889.20 thousand metric ton (BBS, 2008). Due to different initiatives by the government through different organization such as Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) and the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) cultivable areas and production increasing day by day such as in 2005-2006 the rice production areas augmented into 10, 529.09 thousand hectare and the production increased into 24, 569.27 thousand metric ton (MoA, 2007b; BBS, 2008).

Past experience can be argued that those achievement due to better surface water management — preservation and use of surface water, training of farmers to address the depletion of underground water. Otherwise, it was and will be difficult to ensure food security for the ever increasing population (Palma, 2010). However, it is stated that Bangladesh faces some significant challenges in the next century. A combination of population growth, a reduction of arable land and the increasing living standards, will place pressure on food and water security in the country (Khoo, 2010).

Brundtland commission (1987) stated that the sustainable food production is the production which should meet the needs and desire of the people without negotiating with the natural resource for the next generation (Roome, 2002). In this light, Participatory approaches in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) for agriculture can be focused as the most sustainable eco-friendly farming as well as sustainable surface water management and food production system. The soil and Water Conservation Society of America stated that the Agricultural farming through surface water management is the most sustainable food production method as it has a unique capability of keeping the soil fertile without remarkable erosion by integrated management system (Avery, 2002). More steps for sustainable food production can be taken as the food production system does not create any negative impact on the environment (Heap, 2002). Moreover, in the face of rapidly changing national, regional and global economic environment, Bangladesh agriculture is facing the challenge to reinvent itself to withstand competition and at the same time continue to provide food and employment opportunities for the vast majority of the population (MoA, 2006).

1.1 Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and its Involvement

The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), whose origin dates back to the Rural Works Programme (RWP) initiated in the early 1960s, developed rapidly throughout the 1980s and 1990s. RWP was a component of the Comilla Model of rural development pioneered by the famous Aktar Hamid Khan at Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) nationwide – this was started in the early 1960s (Rahman, Rahman & Rahman, 2007). In 1982 RWP switched to the Works Programme Wing (WPW) under the Local Government Division (LGD) of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Co-operatives (MoLGRD&C) (MoLG, 1982). Subsequently the administrative decentralization act of 1982 converted it into the Local Government Engineering Bureau (LGEB) in 1984 (MoLGRDC, 1984). With the needs for rural infrastructure development in the country and the readiness of LGEB to take on more responsibilities, LGEB was upgraded as the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) in August 1992 (LGD, 1992).

It is widely recognised that the role of infrastructure in economic development is significant and often greater than that of investment in other forms of capital (World Bank, 1994). Mujeri (2002) argues that rural infrastructure including irrigation structure play an important role in the socio-economic development of rural areas. Rural works Programme (RWP) and the Thana Irrigation Programme (TIP) and micro-finance have been seen as two interrelated sub-strategies for achieving poverty alleviation (MoLGRD, 1979; MIP, 1998). Comilla Model tried to integrate these two strategies and considered that the breakdown of the interrelationship between the RWP, the TIP and the co-operative would result in undermining of the whole rural development effort through the Comilla experiment (Sen, 1996).

With mission and vision of Comilla model of A.H. Khan, LGED got involvement in escalating food production and facilitating food marketing through surface water management by excavating/re-excavating drains and canals, digging new canals, repair and construction of bunds and embankments, reclamation of land for productive purpose, repair and construction of bridges, repair and construction of earthen and pucca roads meant for irrigation and communication in the name of Works Programme and Thana Irrigation Programme (GoEP, 1962). The TIP program gave responsibility to the Union Parishad (UP) members to find out available surface water resources to plan for utmost irrigation coverage by Low Lift Pumps (LLPs). UP members formed project committees under the RWP to re-excavate irrigation canals for better agricultural production (GoEP, 1962).

With the same objectives as of TIP, LGED started Canal Digging Programme (CDP) in 1979 initially on voluntary basis and later on with the assistance from Food for Work (FFW) to de-silt sediment filled channels all over the country to boost-up water storage capacity of channels for irrigation. The CDP aimed to increase irrigation water supply, drainage improvement, tree plantation on canal bank and fisheries development. The program implemented 3,276 km of khal re-excavation, 429,597 pond re-excavation projects and 382 hydraulic structures. The benefited area covered under CDP was about 419,500 hectares (IWRMU, 2008). In parallel to CDP, under Rural Employment Sector Programme (RESP) funded by SIDA and NORAD, LGED initiated development of small-scale water resources schemes to increase agricultural as well as food production and rural employment generation in 1986 and the programme was continued up to 1996 (MPIUS, 1998). The project implemented 60 small-scale schemes in six districts (Kurigram, Faridpur, Rajbari, Madaripur, Gopalgonj and Shariatpur). IDP covered about 20,530 hectares of cultivated land benefiting 51,230 farm families (RESP, 2000; IWRMU, 2008b). LGED has performed excellently in implementing the rural infrastructures in collaboration with local users to increase food production and consequent employment generation (Faruqee & Choudhury, 1996).

With an aim to provide dry season irrigation facilities by using surface water in increasing rice and non-rice crops production especially in the coastal belt LGED first implemented two rubber dams in Cox’s Bazar District in 1995 on a pilot basis. Inspired by the success of the pilot projects, the Government considered rubber dams for wide replication and, consequently, construction of more rubber dams was taken up all over the country. LGED has constructed eleven more rubber dams in 1999-2007 (DoAE & LGED, 2005) and started to construct 10 more rubber dams in 2009-2014. Participatory irrigation management and O&M have been adopted for the rubber dam projects (DoAE & LGED, 2009).

2. Objectives

  1. To surface the initiatives of the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) in food security and employment generation through surface water management with participatory approach.
  2. To present the state of the art of the participatory surface water management process in sustainable socio-economic development by increasing crop as well as food production and thereby employment generation in the rural areas of Bangladesh

3. Methodology

A detailed and systematic approach was followed to achieve the objectives of this study using two methods. First a broad review of external secondary data sources associated with the topic that included water and food production, irrigation, gender and development, employment generation, surface water management etc. and internal SSWRDSPs which includes the sub-project based field data obtained for formulation, implementation, and performance evaluation of SSWRDSPs were made. Pre-project data were compiled from sub-project appraisal reports while the monitoring and evaluation data were drawn from the Management Information System (MIS) unit of IWRMU, LGED and various project reports. Field information was fetched through befitting exercise supported by the SSWRDSPs and the IWRMU of LGED collected the post-project data after completion of the projects.

Methodology of the study also involved two tier exercises. Firstly, information of the pre-status of the sub-projects areas were drawn from relevant published materials and field records and secondly the post-status of the sub-project areas from data obtained from MIS unit. Primary sources included extensive field visits, household survey and sub-project beneficiary and WMCA’s interviews. Field workers of Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) were involved in the surveys and interviews. As the author is a fulltime employee of LGED and posted in the IWRMU as a Senior Assistant Engineer (Operation and Maintenance) and also in-charge MIS unit of IWRMU of LGED, got opportunity to involve in every steps of sub-project implementation cycle. Transcripts of field visit, field notes, and relevant literature were analysed on the basis of themes, patterns and data’s of interrelationships among those that addressed the research goal.

4. Small Scale Water Resources Development Sector Projects of LGED

Taking lessons from the performances of the earlier water resources development projects, LGED facilitates sustainable use of water resources with the participation of local stakeholders along with Local Government Institutions involving public and private sectors, communities and individuals in the implementation of Small Scale Water Resources Development Sector Project (SSWRDSP) to improve the socio-economic condition that includes food production and employment generation. The Project is implemented in conformity with the National Water Policy (NWP) that stressed integrated water management. The NWP has defined the role of the Local Government Institutions and given the mandate of implementing flood control, drainage and irrigation (FCDI) projects having command areas of 1,000 ha or less to increase the food production and employment generation (MoWR, 1999). The NWP states that water resources management requires involvement of the public and private sectors, communities and individuals that benefit from the delivery of water-related services. Because, the ultimate success and effectiveness of public water resources management projects depends on the people’s acceptance and ownership of each subproject / project (MoWR, 1999).

The first project was in the name of Small Scale Water Resources Development Sector Project (SSWRDSP) (1995-2002). The project aimed at sustainable growth in agricultural production as well as food production and incomes of about 140,000 farm families in western Bangladesh through the establishment of about 300 small-scale water resources development schemes (LGED, 1995). The phase-1 of SSWRDSP finally completed 280 subproject covering 165,000 hectares of cultivates land that benefits 142,000 farm families in 37 districts (IWRMU, 2008c).The main objectives of the Second Small-Scale Water Resources Development Sector Project (SSWRDSP) are to enhance agriculture and fish culture and to take effective steps in poverty alleviation through improving the surface water resources in different regions of the country (Rahman, Rahman & Rahman, 2007).

With the success and gathered experience from SSWRDSP-1 LGED started the 2nd phase of SSWRDSP covering larger areas in 61 districts of the country in 2003(LGED, 2001). The 2nd phase of the project is completed in 2010 (LGED, 2010a) and implements 300 sub-projects all over the country covering 163,000 hectares of cultivates land that benefits 154,000 farm families. The 3rd phase is started in 2010 in the name of Participatory Small Scale Water Resources Sector Project (PSSWRSP) and implementing throughout the country with an aims to develop 300 new sub-projects and for rehabilitation of 160 existing sub-projects (LGED, 2010b). It could be mentioned that another Small Scale Water Resources Development Sector Projects funded by JICA also implementing by LGED from 2008 covering 15 districts of greater Mymensingh, Sylhet and Faridpur having a plan to implement 300 sub-projects (LGED, 2010c). In implementing these projects, LGED is very much careful about participatory water management process (MoWR, 2000). It has developed a very innovative framework of participation for addressing local people’s views in development initiative in water sector (LGED, 2009). The local people participate in all stages of the project cycle- identification and feasibility, design and institutional building, construction and first year O&M (Operation & Maintenance), sustainable O & M and their participation is formulized through forming a Water Management Cooperative Association (WMCA) in each sub-project. After completion of the sub-project, the WMCA takes the responsibility of operation and maintenance of the subproject infrastructure (LGED, 2009). Capacity building of WMCAs is another important aspect of the project. Line agencies of the government imparted training to the WMCA members for their capacity building and LGED has signed memorandum of understandings with the agencies concerned (MoWR, 2000). Moreover LGED ensure the stakeholder participation to make the project effective and sustainable development as the interests of the community promotes a convergence among the government, development partners and other stakeholders, is considered as a key strategic step for sustainable investment (FAO, 2010).

Monitoring of the completed 580 Sub-projects of the SSWRDSP shows increasing trend in cereal and non-cereal crop as well as food production. The increased crop/food production is due to increased cropping intensity in the subproject area and that intensity generates more employment in respective area. Evaluation of the project has been done by different agencies at different time. Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and WL I delft hydraulics, the Netherlands jointly evaluated the project. In addition Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) under Ministry of Planning Bangladesh also evaluated the project and their findings are very much positive. In general, the evaluation agencies concluded that SSWRDSP has shown a very encouraging development in developing Socio-Economic conditions that includes food production and employment generation in the Sub-project area (BUET, BIDS & delft hydraulics, 2003; IMED, 2005). The project follows a participatory approach of implementation where local people play vital role in all stages of the project cycle.

5. Framework of participation

The overall participatory process in subproject development adopted by the LGED is a combination of two parallel but interrelated processes:

  • “Institutional” involving software elements and
  • “Technical” involving hardware elements

Sub-project implementation is participatory and the whole cycle of subproject development process is sub-divided into four distinct stages as presented below (Figure-1) (LGED, 2009).

Stage 1: Identification and Feasibility

In consultation with local stakeholders, the Union Parishad (Council) kicks off sub-project proposals. The LGED Upazila Engineer submits it to the Upazila Development Coordination Committee for approval. If approved, the proposal is forwarded to the Integrated Water Resources Management Unit (IWRMU) and to the Project Management Office (PMO) through the LGED Executive Engineer at the district level. IWRMU pre-screens the proposal during a multidisciplinary field reconnaissance. This is followed by (i) Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and (ii) Feasibility Study (FS). Each subproject is reviewed and approved by District Level Inter-Agency Project Evaluation Committee (DLIAPEC).

Stage 2: Design and Institution Building

Following the approval of DLIAPEC, engineering design and establishment of Water Management Association (WMA) are done along with motivational awareness campaign among stakeholders. Process of establishing WMA is initiated under the legal framework of the Cooperative Societies Act (National Parliament of Bangladesh, 2001). Contracted NGO facilitator creates awareness, generates local enthusiasm in the local water resource systems, promote membership enrolment, assist in collection of beneficiary contributions, and conflict resolution. The WMA is registered with the Department of Co-operative (DoC) and becomes WMCA. The IWRMU undertakes engineering design work in consultation with stakeholders and discusses for their approval. This process concludes in the signing of a formal implementation agreement by the WMCA, Union Parishad and LGED Executive Engineer at district level before tendering for the works or contracting Labor Contracting Societies (LCS). To sign the implementation agreement, the WMCA must have achieved (i) enrolment of at least 70% of beneficiary households; (ii) collection of beneficiary contributions equivalent to an annual O&M requirement and deposited in a joint account by LGED and the WMCA; and (iii) approved plans in consultation with people-affected by the environmental mitigation and resettlement (land acquisition) (MoWR, 2000).

Stage 3: Construction and First Year O&M

Civil works are tendered to contractor and earthworks awarded to LCS groups comprised of local landless, disadvantaged destitute males and females. The WMCA supervises construction through a 7-member committee trained on construction monitoring including one man and one woman from the concern Union Parishad (LGED, 2009). The WMCA forms O&M sub-committee and prepares schedule, beneficiary list and maps, and plan comprising operating guidelines, and maintenance and resource mobilization plans. The IWRMU provides on-the-job training that helps WMCA to (i) undertake annual inspection, (ii) identify maintenance needs, (iii) prepare and implement annual O&M plan, and (iv) collect O&M fees. After observation of the infrastructures management performance during the first year of O&M, the sub-project is handed over to the WMCA through a formal lease agreement with LGED (ADB & LGED, 2009). The WMCA receives support of agricultural extension and fisheries departments to prepare agriculture and fisheries development plans and to organize training for WMCA representatives who work as liaison extensions to beneficiaries (ADB, 2008).

Stage 4: Sustainable Operation and Maintenance

This stage starts after sub-project handover and continues throughout its lifetime. Continuous monitoring and support is provided by the IWRMU of LGED and other partner agencies. The WMCA and O & M Committee receive regular training so that they are able to carry out O & M of the sub-project. The WMCA Prepare O & M Plan, Undertakes routine maintenance works and collects O & M fees from direct beneficiaries in proportion to their land area benefited by the sub-project. (LGED, 2009)

6. Participation

‘Participation’ was first advocated in the context of development authorization in the 1950’s due to failed development policies which were thought to lack integration of public concerns throughout their planning. Thus, participatory methods were encouraged as fundamental measures of development. In this process marginal groups (poor, women, indigenous and ethnic minorities) should come together with project authorities to share, negotiate and control decision-making processes (Lisk, 1981; WB, 1985).

In each subproject of the SSWRDSP of LGED the organization in the name of WMCA is formed. The WMCAs play basic role to functionally represent beneficiaries in all processes of the sub-project cycle. The stakeholders’ participation is assessed by institutional and O&M activities in the sub-project area.

Institutional activities:

Institutional activities are assessed by WMCAs functions. These include membership, beneficiary’s contribution, capital formation and use and holding of meetings in each subproject. These are monitored quarterly through Upazila level Community Organizers (CO) and district level Socio-economist. WMCAs progress on institutional activities and their capability development in 580 subproject areas as monitored in December 2010 are as follows:

WMCA membership:

The WMCAs provide an excellent means to address the needs of a range of special interests. The membership in 580 WMCAs consists of 183,831 males and 70,723 females from an estimated total of 297,300 households. Average membership covers about three-forth of the total households. Women all over the world play an active role in agriculture, thus contributing to food security (IFAD, 2007). The WMCA members include marginal, small, medium and large farmers; landless; women and fishers. Women comprised one-third of the first management committee of each of the WMCAs and about 25% of the total membership as the National Policy for Women’s Advancement, provides a significant commitments of the Government to equality of women and men which are also reflected in the national poverty reduction strategy that emphasizes the importance of women’s rights and opportunities for progress in the battle against poverty (GoB, 2009; ADB, 2010). Each WMCA members elect a Management Committee with at least one-third women members. The Management Committee is supported by O&M, agricultural, fisheries and credit management subcommittees. Regular Management Committee Meeting and Annual General Meeting are conducted by the WMCAs.


the beneficiaries contribution construction of infrastructure in 580 sub-projects amounted (US$1,190.141) of which 89% was collected from the farmers beneficiaries of the water resources development.

WMCA capital:

These WMCAs have established a capital base in all sub-projects through shares and savings by the members. In 580 sub-projects, the capital accomplished well in excess of Tk 129.82 million (US$1,829). The capital is being used in supporting micro-credit, procurement of agricultural inputs, and other small-scale business enterprises operated by the individual WMCA. WMCAs have set up micro-credit programmess and have loaned to 26,900 male and 12,937 female members. The average size of each loan is about Tk 2,500 (US$ 366). Since the capital formation the cumulative investments of the WMCAs is Tk 110.1 million (US$1.55 million). The DoC inspects and audits the accounts of the WMCAs. The WMCA members have increased their income with investment of micro-credit on quality seed production, poultry farming, milking cow, beef fattening, vegetable production, aquaculture, seasonal crop storage, and grocery shops.

WMCA capability development:

The WMCAs members are given training to increase their capability in institutional management, capital formation, credit management, sustainable agricultural and fisheries production, improved farm practices, environmental management and subproject O&M. Relevant departments and institutes support the project in training need assessments, course development, materials preparation and organisation. LGED has signed memorandum of understanding with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Department of Cooperatives (DoC), Department of Fisheries (DoF) and Department of Livestock Service (DLS) to support the subproject beneficiaries (LGED, 2006). The DoC supports subproject WMCAs in institutional strengthening and financial management. Field level official of DAE, DoF and DLS support the sub-project farmers and fishers in the preparation and implementation of agricultural and fisheries production plans and use of improved technologies. This has created opportunity for the integration and complementary of support services provided by the government departments and sustainable water resources uses for food production with the formation of cooperatives in the sub-projects areas. Three approaches are adopted to provide training to the WMCA members that included beneficiary farmers, fishers and women. The first approach is to identify and communicate with existing relevant programmes and to ensure that WMCA members have access to these programmes. The second approach is that where a need for a new programme is identified, the Project develops the material, testes it by conducting a number of programmes, and then transfers the training material to an appropriate institution. As an example, this is the approach used in establishing management training for the WMCA at the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development. A third approach is used especially for new programmes. The Project works with the relevant institution to jointly prepare the curriculum and training materials. The training is then delivered by that institution and further developed based on feed-back from participants and monitoring systems. This approach is used in the training delivered by the DAE Agricultural Training Institutes. General improvements during the course of the Project attributable to training impact were observed, in the nature of the institutional support provided to the local stakeholders, in the type of agriculture practiced within the Project area, in aquaculture, and in homestead food production patterns. All of these activities are imparted and monitored by IWRMU LGED.

Operation and maintenance (O&M)activities:

The sub-project beneficiaries prepare annual O&M plans and budget and mobilise local resources for the O&M costs. LGED initiated extensive training programs for the WMCA O&M sub-committee members to perform regular O&M for the completed sub-project handed-over to them. The O&M sub-committee is responsible for the preparation of annual plan and collection and utilization of funds for O&M. Annually each WMCA collects O&M fund from the farmers at the rate of 3.0% and 1.5% of the total cost for the subproject earthworks and hydraulic structures, respectively (ADB, 2008; ADB & LGED, 2009).

Table 1: Operation and Maintenance (O & M) Budget (Taka-million)

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