Empowering communities on implementing IWRM in South Asia

By Paridhi Rustogi, a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under Global Water Partnership’s flagship Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP). Paridhi was an intern with the GWP South Asia (GWP SAS) Regional Office from September 2017 to July 2018, working on developing knowledge products and capturing success stories from the region. These are her reflections.


Faced with a rapidly changing climate regime and severe environmental challenges, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is being championed by rural communities across South Asia. By consolidating resources – natural and economic – communities are able to fortify their water resilience and as a result augment their food and water security. These efforts are strengthened and led by the GWP SAS  Regional Office, which operates through six Country Water Partnerships based in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

As a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under GWP’s WACDEP, I explored South Asia’s water resources and vulnerabilities in-depth and captured success stories through case studies that explored implementation of IWRM at the grassroots and watershed level.

Population growth and an unwavering dependence of agriculture on rainfall necessitates interventions that safeguard access to quality water resources even in periods of lean rainfall. Access to water in southern states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu was accomplished by GWP India and the DHAN Foundation through reviving traditional water harvesting structures with the support of rural communities who contributed in cash and provision of labour services. In targeted communities, Water User Associations (WUA) and Farmer’s Federations – Vayalagams – have actively managed small-irrigation schemes; by providing them ownership, projects costs reduced and programme efficiency increased by fostering stakeholder engagement.

However, rising temperatures and torrential rainfall – manifestations of climate change – threaten to stall progress that is already delayed in most parts of South Asia, bringing adaptation activities to the forefront. In Pakistan’s desert areas of Tharparkar and Cholistan, a severe drought has hindered the livelihoods of local residents. GWP Pakistan’s solution was to provide aid, capacity development opportunities like soap manufacturing and garden kitchen concepts, and to reinvigorate local ponds and wells to support cattle rearing. This desert development approach relied on community-based water supply and management. Community members were handed over the management of village ponds, nurseries and wells.

Guided by national policies pertaining to climate change adaptation, GWP Pakistan’s interventions aimed to bridge the gap in the practical application of existing policies. Using both a top-down and bottom-up approach by enabling Training of Trainers (ToTs) at the village level, community participation was encouraged. IWRM was used as a guiding policy and local authorities were involved in decision-making and project implementation.

Reeling from the damage of a large landslide in central Sri Lanka, GWP Sri Lanka expanded its work in the Ma Oya basin by engaging local community members in rehabilitation work and awareness raising on climate change adaptation. The complexity of this disaster highlighted the need for speedily operationalizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in future activities and highlighted a decided shift from disaster relief to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Engaging with the community helped identify the most important form of DRR – a model that involves and is supported by local communities, particularly women.

One of the key activities was raising awareness among schoolchildren on water and sanitation and providing rainwater-harvesting tanks to store water to fulfil the daily needs of the school. By enabling regular access to water, female student enrolment improved, leading to a step in the right direction for active student engagement. Students can be the most important conduit of DRR information in their communities. Emphasis was laid on creating a connection between children and their environments.

While Pakistan’s deserts suffer from droughts and Sri Lanka’s Central province from poor water management, in Bhutan, despite plentiful water resources, uneven spatial and temporal distribution of water bodies makes them hard to access. This limits the growth opportunities of farmers in the Lingmutey-chu Basin who struggle to tap sufficient water for successful irrigation. Implemented by GWP Bhutan, the Bajo Siphon project best demonstrates a successful low-investment climate adaptation initiative.

Conflict management to pacify various stakeholders was a key part of cultivating access to siphon irrigation for farmer communities. By improving access of affected parties to irrigation water, mutually beneficial arrangements were set up. Public authority had a key role to play in this process of providing water supply and sanitation services while it was the community members had to maintain and reap its benefits. The success of the Bajo project has improved the livelihoods of local farmers through a simple application of technology. This project also demonstrated the successful collaborative efforts between the community, government, and non-governmental agencies.

GWP’s IWRM ToolBox identifies the various tools that can be used to carry out successful IWRM in the field and greatly influenced the thought process behind these interventions. By connecting communities to IWRM resources and capacity building, fruitful solutions to withstand climate change and rising environmental pressures can be sought. South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population provides a neutral platform for water and climate development initiatives. GWP South Asia’s work in the field has created significant lasting contributions in the lives of targeted communities.

About globalwaterpartnership

The Global Water Partnership's vision is for a water secure world. Our mission is to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
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