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FEATURE STORY

Irrigation Reforms Make Impressive Strides in Sindh Province

January 10, 2013

Image

Mai Mithi, a mother of five from Ghulam Shah Bhutto village, fills her earthen pitcher from a channel.

Muzammil Pasha/World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A government initiative backed by the World Bank is giving people in Pakistan’s Sindh province more control over and access to their water resources.
  • A key part of the reform process is formation of farmers’ organizations. In each channel community, farmers are elected by their peers to suggest and oversee local irrigation repairs.
  • “Before, I would fight with friends about water. Now life is good – first class,” says one farmer.

SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan – Water is power when the land is dry. Until recently, farmers who fell out of favor with irrigation officials in Pakistan risked losing their livelihoods.

But now a government initiative, backed by the World Bank, is giving people in Sindh province more control over their water resources, while ongoing canal rehabilitation work is also improving their access.

“In the past, even very junior canal officers were like gods who could simply stop water based on personal likes or dislikes. Huge politics and money could be involved,” says Farzana Abbasi, a social development specialist for the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA). “Now these reforms ensure everyone is fairly treated.”

Habib Baig, chairman of the new farmers’ organization at Duthro Minor irrigation channel, is pleased with the progress. His group reminds everyone of its importance with a sign erected at their village meeting place: “Many people have survived without love, but no one survives without water. Save water because it saves life.”

Water management system decentralizes power

Reform of irrigation systems all over Pakistan started about 20 years ago, and Sindh continues to make impressive strides, says Abbasi.

In recent years, Sindh has created its own multi-tiered water management system that decentralizes power through SIDA, several area water boards (which oversee about one-third of Sindh’s irrigated land), and more than 350 farmers’ organizations. Rather than having a single irrigation department, these groups now manage the province’s water supply together.

Reforms are ongoing. Most recently, the World Bank is supporting the Sindh Water Sector Improvement project to encourage the creation of more farmers’ organizations, as well as funding extensive repairs to about 173 irrigation channels, branches and distributaries.

The project also includes a mammoth dredging effort currently under way near the Nara Canal site, which is so heavily clogged with silt that water distribution is at half its capacity.


" My lands were often barren, but now the water has doubled, and my crops have increased 100%. "

Mohammad Ibrahim

Farmer

Irrigation repairs transform lives

Farmer Ali Mohammed, 60, whose family of 11 relies on income from just two acres of wheat and cotton planted near Sarki Minor irrigation channel, can’t believe the transformation.

“I have seen this for the first time in my life. Where it was all choked with reeds and dirt before, the water is flowing again,” says Mohammad. “Previously water did not easily reach my land, but now it is coming properly.”

Mohammad Ibrahim, 52, who farms 12 acres off a channel’s “tail section,” typically worst served because water flows there last, says the repairs are changing his life.

“My lands were often barren, but now the water has doubled, and my crops have increased 100%.”

The family bought a tractor, can afford to send five children to school, and may buy more land, he says. “Before, I would fight with friends about water. Now life is good – first class.”

Ali Murad, 32, who farms off Rind Minor channel, is relieved to put corrupt practices behind him. “Earlier, it was necessary to pay huge bribes of 50,000 rupees, even 100,000 rupees (about $1,000), so irrigation officials would release your water. If you didn’t give money, you didn’t get water,” recalls Murad, now a farmers’ organization member in his area.

A key part of the reform process is formation of farmers’ organizations (FOs). In each channel community, farmers are elected by their peers to suggest and oversee local irrigation repairs.

“With FOs, people are kept honest, and we are all responsible for our water,” says Murad.

Along with channel repairs, the FOs can request washing platforms, water pumping stations, and bridges to join long-separated communities. These initiatives are much appreciated by Mai Mithi and Biban Bibi.

“There are four new bridges now to help our children reach school, or to get people more quickly to the doctor,” notes Mithi, a mother of five from Ghulam Shah Bhutto village. Bibi says washing platforms are a safer place for her daily chores.

Six-year-old Hyder Ali is eager for better mango production near his home. “Water helps the mangoes grow, so I can eat them,” says Ali, pointing eagerly at a ripening tree by a small channel.

At Nara Canal on a natural river first harnessed in 1896 to feed the irrigation system, project engineer Nazir Ahmed says two massive dredging machines are already clearing silt and doubling water flow capacity. Large orange pipes project the dredgers’ silt spray over a nearby swamp, reclaiming it for future farming.

“This has been a historic link in our system for more than century; now we expect it to function better for another 100 years,” says Ahmed.


Api
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