Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

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    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: The Promise and Threat of Ethiopia’s Dam on the Nile: 21st century Water Conflicts

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 2, 2013 

    The Nile River – river of legend – is not just a river in Egypt. It is the lifeblood of 11 different African nations and the longest river in the world, extending over 6,500 kilometers long and draining a watershed of over 3 million square kilometers. The eleven nations that share the Nile are Egypt, Ethiopia, the Sudan and South Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, the DR of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.

    The river is really two major rivers: the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which meet near Khartoum and become the mainstem of the Nile, flowing north to Egypt and the Mediterranean.  The White Nile originates in the highlands of the Great Lakes region of Rwanda and Burundi. The Blue Nile originates in the Lake Tana region of Ethiopia. Of all of the water that reaches Egypt, the majority comes in the Blue Nile.

    Over the past centuries, indeed over the past millennia, the waters of the Nile have been captured and harnessed by the people of Egypt, who depended initially on the ebb and flow of the river for recession agriculture, and in modern times, on hydropower and irrigation waters pulled from the massive Aswan Dam or from downstream diversion systems. By some estimates, 97% of all of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile, and to say that the nation is critically dependent upon it – with a population of more than 80 million people — is an understatement.

    Continue reading. 

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    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 10, 2013 

    There is a long history of conflicts over water – the Pacific Institute maintains an online, searchable chronology of such conflicts going back 5,000 years. There were dozens of new examples in 2012, in countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia.  (A full update for 2012 has been posted.) Access to water and the control of water systems have been causes of conflict, weapons have been used during conflicts, and water systems have been the targets of conflict.

    One especially disturbing example of a major conflict, with complicated but direct connections to water, has developed over the past two years: the unraveling of Syria and the escalation of massive civil war there. Syria’s political dissolution is, like almost all conflicts, the result of complex and inter-related factors, in this case an especially repressive and unresponsive political regime, the erosion of the economic health of the country, and a wave of political reform sweeping over the entire Middle East and North Africa region. But in a detailed assessment, Femia and Werrell noted that factors related to drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement have also played an important role in nurturing Syria’s “seeds of social unrest” and contributing to violence.

    Continue reading.

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  • Notes from the Field: What We Know about Indonesian Urban Residents, Water Utilities, Local Government Agencies and NGOs at the Beginning of Our Third Year Developing WASH SMS

    By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

    February 5, 2013

    Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford.

    December marked the beginning of year three in the development of the WASH SMS platform through our pilot project in Indonesia. The Institute and our partners Nexleaf Analytics and PATTIRO have been developing two Indonesia WATER SMS systems …»

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  • Notes from the Field: A Success Story in Participatory Irrigation Management in India: The Waghad Farmer Managed Irrigation System

    by Veena Srinivasan, Research Affiliate 
    July 15, 2011

    Awards for Waghad Irrigation SystemLast week I visited a farmer-managed irrigation system in India’s Waghad Medium Irrigation Project. I passed by the Waghad Project in my quest to locate Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) systems around the city of Nasik, India. The Pacific Institute is currently working on understanding multiple-use as a potential for funding for improvements in the water sector. Although Waghad is not strictly an MUS case because of its size, it is an interesting case study because it highlights how “soft” options alone — information, participation, social norms, and wise use of water — can achieve dramatic results.

    The project represents a highly successful “bottom-up” farmer taking over of the irrigation system and the huge prosperity it has brought to the region. What was once a decaying irrigation system where farmers received no water and the Irrigation Department received no revenue is now a thriving region where incomes have grown 50-fold and Irrigation Department Revenues went up 10-fold within 15 years. The success of this project, in part, resulted in the state government passing the Maharashtra State Farmer Managed Irrigation Act in 2005, in a bid to replicate the success elsewhere. The project’s success has been recognized by many awards including one from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) which allowed the project to compete for a water efficiency award as a private company.

    There are 24 Water User Associations (WUAs) and nine Lift Irrigation User Associations in the Waghad system. There is also a Project Level Association (PLA), which co-ordinates between the WUAs and the Department of Irrigation. This blog entry (the first of several to come) is based on interviews with farmers, the local NGO, and members of the PLA and WUAs. The interviews were conducted at two locations: Ozar village, which houses the offices of three tail-end WUAs, and Mohadi village, where the PLA office is located.

    History and Background
    Ozar is a village 18 km from the city of Nasik. Ozar village falls under the command area of a Medium Irrigation Dam called the Waghad Dam. The command area of the Waghad Dam is about 10,000 Ha (hectares) and serves 15,000 farmers. The average land holding is about 1.5 Ha. About 10% are smallholders with holdings of 0.5 Ha or less. The dam is located 45 km upstream of Ozar.

    The Situation in the Late 1980s
    Until 1991 the dam was managed entirely by the Department of Irrigation. Ozar, which falls at the tail end of the command area, was receiving no water at all. But even in the head reaches of the Waghad canal system, farmers were barely earning an income of Rs 2,800/Ha, and farms at the tail-end of the minor canals in the head reaches were receiving very little water. The Irrigation Department’s revenue from the entire project was barely Rs 2 lakhs (about $12,000 in 1990) according to Shri Kulkarni, a local farmer who showed me around. These numbers were backed up by other members sitting in the PLA office. Corruption was rampant and farmers had to bribe irrigation officials to get any allocation of water at all. As the revenue from the project was so low, the Irrigation Department had no incentive to maintain the structures and the structures were gradually degrading.

    Importantly, at the time the prevailing attitude among the farmers was that it was the government’s job to deliver water and the farmer’s job to receive it. Farmers were uninterested in taking over the government’s “job” – even though they were unsatisfied with the situation. Mr. Kulkarni opined that this was a distinct shift from the long history of community-level water resources management in India during the colonial period where water resources management was bureaucratized and run by British engineers who viewed it their job to deliver water and collect taxes. However, the poor state of the system meant that the level of trust in the Irrigation Department was very low. Lacking any trust in the ability of the Irrigation Department to deliver water, the farmers did not attempt to cultivate any “risky” high-value vegetable crops and as a result their income was very low. Wealthier farmers had borewells which they had to run round the clock.

    The Transformation
    The Ozar Water User Association was formed in 1991, one of three WUAs formed with the help of a local NGO founded by Shri Bapu Rao Upadhyay. Shri Upadhyay, founder of a local NGO called Samaj Parvitan Kendra (translates “Societal Change Centre”) was a visionary who understood the difficulties the region was suffering from and had the foresight to argue that if water was not managed it would one day “burn like oil.”

    Initially, it was not difficult to persuade the tail-end farmers to agree to form a WUA. They were receiving absolutely no water from the project. Once they co-ordinated and formed the WUA, they collectively worked to improve the physical structures and persuaded the Irrigation Department to meet their obligations to supply water. As Shri Bharat Kulkarni, who now heads Samaj Parivartan Kendra, explained, the initial change was establishing trust between farmers. This was necessarily a gradual process – it involved building trust farmer by farmer over a period of 15 years. Once they showed some early successes that the WUA could collectively bargain for water, more farmers joined in.

    It was clear to me why the tail-end farmers who were miserably poor were willing to join the WUA. But the big question is why the head-end farmers joined in. Older members who were active 20 years ago said that even the head-end canals were not receiving much water: only “head-end farmers in head-end canals were actually getting water.” The Irrigation Department was not maintaining the structures at all and the water was not being released at times they needed it and Irrigation Department staff needed to bribed to open the canal outlets. The farmers were frustrated that they were being asked to pay for water and bribe officials for water they could not rely on.

    As Shri Kulkarni put it – even though everything appears “fair and lovely” now, the present success is because of protracted negotiations and trust-building over 20 years. Waghad appears to be exceptional in remaining untouched by caste divisions and political rivalry. Other farmer-managed systems in India have not been similarly lucky in managing to stay depoliticized, particularly in the elections of Chairman of the PLA. As one board member in the PLA put it, “We leave our differences at the door when we enter the WUA building – otherwise the whole organization would fall apart – our focus is on water and only water.”  I was not able to understand how the WUAs managed to work this miracle although I asked this question in different ways a few times. The only answer I could get was that there were inspiring leaders who were extremely committed to the cause of maintaining a de-politicized environment within the WUAs and ensured that these became part of the rules early on by simply not permitting any political or religious rhetoric.

    The Current Picture
    In 2011, the Waghad Irrigation Farmer Managed System is touted as an exemplary case of farmer-managed irrigation. The Project has won numerous state and national level awards and local WUA members are regularly invited to guest lecture or conduct training sessions at Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) workshops all over the country. Today the Irrigation Department revenue from the project is almost Rs 27 lakhs (about $60,000).

    Farmers said that their average income from agriculture is in the range of Rs 1,20,000 per Ha (about $2500) — almost 50 times what it was 20 years ago. In an area where they could not dream of growing fruits and vegetables, farmers now regularly grow perennial crops and vegetables which require high levels of reliable water supply. Farmer participation in the WUA has stayed consistently high for 20 years.

    What Steps Were Taken
    Based on my conversations with farmers, the success of the Waghad project can be attributed to two types of measures: first, development of robust water institutions around monitoring and enforcement and second, widespread adoption of water efficiency measures. I will discuss this more in next month’s entry!

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  • Research in India: What Would Gandhi Do?


    For three months in 2005-2006, Pacific Institute Program Director Meena Palaniappan will be conducting research in India. This article is part of a series of diary entries in which Palaniappan will elaborate on her experiences abroad.


    I am always thoroughly impressed and humbled by the dedication and commitment of my NGO colleagues and concerned residents who are involved in the struggle to make Chennai more sustainable. The city seems chock full of retired engineers and scientists who are making their own homes more sustainable by building comprehensive rainwater harvesting systems, separating out garbage, recycling the greywater (wash water) from their homes, and trying to spread these practices to others.

    Every few years I come dashing through Chennai or hereabouts on some environmental project, to learn from and to provide assistance to the NGO community. Yet, each time I come, the same core set of people seem to be tirelessly working on improving things in Chennai. They are getting older and wiser, and they are not giving up. It’s a wonderful, heartening thing to see.

    Luckily, some new energy is often inserted into the mix and younger folks are giving new life and new strategies to the old guard. There is definitely a difference in attitude and strategy. Younger ones seem more activist oriented, more suspicious of government and corporates, and less willing to work within the system or accept compromise.

    Young, old, rural or urban, there is a phrase that always seems to cause many to pause, “What would Gandhi do?” or what some have shortened to WWGD. More than 50 years since his assassination, the pedestal that the Mahatma occupied has only grown taller. And for those that are engaged in variations of the same social and political battle that Gandhi waged, there is no better model or guide than the original himself.

    What would Gandhi do? It is a question that many have wondered about. How would India have been different if we had Gandhi for a few more years? Perhaps he would have provided a counter to the big infrastructure/industrialization bent of our equally revered first Prime Minister Jawarhalal Nehru. Are we living as Gandhi intended? Probably not. Mega cities that only keep growing are not the India of a thousand villages that Gandhi had hoped for. Nor is this race after Western-style development what Gandhi had intended when he envisioned the Third World defining a new path to development.

    Yet, these social activist Indians are doing their best to live and to create projects in the Gandhian ethic. Whether it is creating self-reliant villages in tsunami-effected areas, or fighting for decentralized options for basic needs instead of mega-projects, the Gandhian ethic is alive and well in India.

    One man I met in Chennai has turned his entire house into a fully water self-sufficient building, using rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse, with disinfected rainwater used for drinking. His family performs tasks in such a way as to not introduce too much food or chemicals into the grey water; for example, the first wash of kitchen dishes is separated to use in the compost. The above picture shows his in-home disinfection system.

    Another man I met is a builder with the best reputation in Chennai, earned by building quality apartments and not giving or taking bribes. Years back, he was upset about a letter to the editor accusing apartment developers as being the reason for water shortages in Chennai. He decided to implement systems in his apartment complexes that would save all greywater from bath and washing, treat it, and reuse it for flushing toilets and landscaping. Recently semi-retired, the builder has self-published the book Self Reliance in Water: The Alacrity Experience detailing the specific designs to install rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse systems in the home.

    “These designs are not things one can patent, and they are critical for the future of water in our city,” he told me. “So, I thought why not publish this manual and distribute it widely so that everyone will have what they need to solve the city’s water problems.”

    To propagate and not patent good ideas—this is what Gandhi would have done. Hopefully with many more like him, a new India can emerge… one that the Mahatma would be proud of.

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