Folder Issue2

June 2013




Voices of water professionals: Shedding light on hidden dynamics in the water sector – An introduction

Gil Levine, Miguel Solanes and Mercy Dikito-Wachtmeister



Viewpoint - The search for understanding irrigation - Fifty years of learning

Gilbert Levine
Professor Emeritus, Biological and Environmental Engineering Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA;

ABSTRACT: For those involved in international irrigation development activities there often are feelings of frustration. This note is an effort to identify underlying sources of the frustrations that come from external limits that are placed on thinking, from fads that often dominate, and from the influence of power that can overwhelm one'€™s best efforts. Problems of ignorance, wilful and otherwise, the existence of unspoken objectives, and the one-size-fits-all approach are addressed from the perspective of personal experience including research, consulting, and grant-making. Basic to many of the problems are the personal motivations of those with decision-making authority. Examples from the Philippines, India and Pakistan illustrate the problems.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, development, constraints, misfeasance



Viewpoint -€“ Rent-seeking in agricultural water management: An intentionally neglected core dimension?

Walter Huppert
Independent Consultant, Former Senior Technical Adviser, GIZ (former GTZ), Germany;

ABSTRACT: In the early and mid-1980s, two seminal papers on agricultural water management came as a shock to the international professional community. They drew attention to the fact that public irrigation is particularly prone to rent-seeking and corruption. Both papers -€“ one by Robert Wade in 1982 and the other by Robert Repetto in 1986 -€“ described hidden interests of the involved stakeholders in irrigation development and management that open doors to opportunistic behaviour -€“ thus perpetuating technical and economical inefficiencies.
About twenty-five years later, Transparency International (TI) in its often cited Global Corruption Report 2008 -€“ dedicated to the issue of corruption in the water sector -€“ made the following statement: "corruption remains one of the least analysed and recognised problems in the water sector. This report provides a first step in filling this gap" (TI, 2008: 1069).
The question arises as to why, through twenty-five years following the publications of Wade and Repetto, the topics of corruption and rent-seeking in agricultural water management seldom gained serious attention in international research and development. And why, strangely enough, the critical topic of rent-seeking is hardly dealt with in the above-mentioned report and even in recent publications of the Water Integrity Network (WIN).
The author, drawing on thirty-five years of experience in the field of agricultural water management and on cases from research and from development cooperation, puts forward his personal viewpoint on this matter. He contends that local as well as international professionals on different levels in the water sector are caught in multifaceted conflicts between formal objectives and hidden interests - and often tend to resort to rent-seeking behaviour themselves.

KEYWORDS: rent-seeking, corruption, water management, irrigation development, irrigation maintenance



Viewpoint - Swimming against the current: Questioning development policy and practice

Kurt Mørck Jensen
Senior Analyst, Danish Institute for International Studies and Senior Adviser, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Danida),

ABSTRACT: The water world is dominated by normative policies prescribing what "good development" is all about. It is a universe of its own where policies live their own lives and feed in and out of each other. As new buzzwords continue to be invented or reinvented, policies continue to maintain their shiny images of how water resources or water supply should be managed. There are many water professionals acting as missionaries in the service of policies but probably less professionals acting up against blindfolded policy promotion. It is when water policies are being implemented in the real world that the trouble starts. In spite of their well-intended mission, water policies often suffer shipwreck on the socio-economic and political realities in developing countries. Through cases from India and the Mekong, the author demonstrates what happens when normative water polices are forced out of their comfort zone and into social and political realities. Although policies are made of stubborn material they need to be questioned through continuous analytical insight into developing country realities. But undertaking critical analysis and questioning the wisdom of water policies is easier said than done. It takes a lot of effort to swim against the policy current.

KEYWORDS: Water policies, water resources, water supply, Integrated Water Resources Management, river basin management, India, the Mekong, politics



Viewpoint - Development or disbursement - Vested interests and the gulf between theory and practice

Phil Riddell
International Agricultural Water Policy Adviser, Crozet, France;

ABSTRACT: In almost 40 years of working in irrigation development and water resources management, I have noted a considerable inconsistency between development theory and the overwhelming need to disburse on the part of typical international financial institutions and development partners. In addition, the symptoms are apparent at every stage of a typical investment cycle. This essay cites first-hand examples to support my hypothesis.

KEYWORDS: Planning, identification, feasibility, appraisal, evaluation, disbursement, development bank



Tapping fresh currents: Fostering early-career researchers in transdisciplinary water governance research

James J. Patterson
University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia;
Anna Lukasiewicz
Charles Sturt University, Albury, New South Wales, Australia;
Philip J. Wallis
Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia;
Naomi Rubenstein
Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia;
Brian Coffey
Deakin University, Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia;
Elizabeth Gachenga
University of Western Sydney, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia;
A. Jasmyn J. Lynch
University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia;

ABSTRACT: Water governance is an important, yet complex and contested field. A central challenge for researchers is to engage with multiple understandings and perspectives that can shape water governance, and to move towards more transdisciplinary approaches. These challenges are magnified for early-career researchers (ECRs), and while the need for transdisciplinary approaches and better support for ECRs is increasingly recognised, there remains a lack of understanding of how to achieve this within the wider research community. Thus, this paper investigates through an auto-ethnographic inquiry the practical experiences and challenges faced by a diverse group of ECRs engaging in water governance research. Reflecting on our own endeavours and relevant literature, we identify a range of path-finding experiences and challenges, and explore strategies employed by ECRs to navigate the 'uncharted waters' of evolving career pathways in water governance research. 'Communities of Practice' are identified as a promising opportunity to support ECRs by enhancing opportunities for reflection and learning. Overall, we argue that there is significant merit in enhancing the way in which water governance research is understood, and improving the means by which ECRs are supported to build capability and contribute in this field.

KEYWORDS: Research practice, auto-ethnography, pathways, community of practice, interdisciplinary, water governance



Viewpoint -€“ Decision making on Amazon dams: Politics trumps uncertainty in the Madeira river sediments controversy

Philip M. Fearnside
National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil;

ABSTRACT: The Madeira River, an Amazon tributary draining parts of Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, has one of the highest sediment loads in the world. The questions of how these sediments would affect the Santo Antônio and Jirau hydroelectric dams, now under construction in Brazil, and how the dams would affect sediment flows, have been the subject of an extended controversy associated with the environmental licensing of the dams. Shortly before licensing the dams, the official scenario changed completely from one in which sediments would accumulate rapidly but could be contained without damage to dam operation, to one in which there would be no accumulation of sediments at all. The uncertainty of this scenario is very high. Under political pressure, the technical staff of the licensing department was overridden and the dams were licensed and built without resolving a variety of controversies, including the question of sediments. Valuable lessons from the Madeira River sediment controversy could contribute to improving decision making on dams and other major development projects in Brazil and in many other countries.

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, hydroelectric dams, environmental impact, Santo Antônio Dam, Jirau Dam, Brazil



Viewpoint - Ignorance, error and myth in south Asian irrigation: Critical reflections on experience

Robert Chambers
Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, Sussex, UK;

ABSTRACT: As a researcher in South Asia in the early 1970s, I was allowed to be seduced by the (then) neglected topic of water management and small-scale irrigation, which opened the door to a whole orchard of low-hanging fruit, much of it to be plucked simply by wandering around. This led later to time working on canal and other irrigation with the Ford Foundation in Delhi. There I was bemused by the close agreement of the World Bank and the Indian Government, dishonest research, and absurdly impractical policies, until I began to understand the relationships and interests at play, my earlier naiveté justifying a consultant saying "you have to understand, this is India". This was an India I did not wish to recognise. With hindsight, I regret my reticence and timidity: whistleblowers are needed.

KEYWORDS: canal irrigation, critical reflection, error, ignorance, myth, research, water management, World Bank, India, Sri Lanka



Viewpoint - The story of a troubled relationship

Ramaswamy R. Iyer
Independent consultant, New Delhi, India;

ABSTRACT: This is the story of my changing relationship with the Indian Ministry of Water Resources and the Central Water Commission. When, in 1985, as a civil servant of the Government of India, I became Secretary, Water Resources, I brought to the assignment fairly conventional views on big dam projects as symbols of development and demonstrations of the application of science and technology to interventions in nature for human purposes. That widely prevalent view began to change as the environmental impacts of big dam projects, and the displacement of people by such projects, became clearer, and my thinking also underwent a change towards the end of my civil service days and later after my retirement. This subjected my old cordial relationship with the Ministry and the official engineering community to considerable strain. Over a period of time, that broken relationship was partially mended, but some embers of the old uneasiness still remain and can ignite easily. The Establishment'€™s disapproval of me got intertwined with their strong defensiveness on dams, their anger against popular movements against big projects, in particular the Narmada project, and their bitter and implacable hostility to the World Commission on Dams. Thus, this personal story goes beyond the personal, and is the reflection of changing attitudes towards engineering interventions in nature and ecological and other concerns, and towards ideas of development.

KEYWORDS: Dams, development, environmental impacts, displacement of people, changing climate of opinion, World Commission on Dams



Viewpoint - Reflecting on the chasm between water punditry and water politics

Dipak Gyawali
Pragya (Academician), Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Chairman, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, and former Minister of Water Resources;

ABSTRACT: When water academia meets real-time water politics, the latter does not necessarily bow deferentially and listen respectfully. When the former attempts to bring what may be thought of as rational reforms, powerful vested interests, their public façade and stated positions notwithstanding, rise in reaction and are able to scuttle such efforts. Since all politics is both local and short-term, entrenched vested interests are often able to distort the public discourse by appealing to 'development', the new theology of our times, even if it is mal-development they are really advocating. This is a personal account of an academic activist and his almost three decades of battling what could be called demons or windmills, depending on which side of the fence one views these events from. It has lessons for academics in general who long for 'policy relevance' for their work ('enter the kitchen only if you can handle the political heat') and for vested interests that have any semblance of social conscience and sense of legacy left in them ('you can't have lasting good politics with short-term bad science').

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, irrigation, water policy and politics, transboundary water, foreign aid, development agencies



Viewpoint - Fifty years of hydroelectric development in Chile: A history of unlearned lessons

Michael Nelson
Consultant, formerly World Bank and UN Economic Commission for Latin America, Wanaka, New Zealand;

ABSTRACT: The development of hydroelectricity in Chile illustrates a situation where water resources can be both well and badly managed when a private or public utility company, in this case ENDESA, is powerful enough to operate largely outside standard policy and bureaucratic processes. It successfully increased hydroelectric capacity more than fourfold over three decades characterised by periods of significant political instability. This was done without noticeable conflict due to its recognised efficiency and absence of environmental concerns in Chilean policy until the late 1980s. Since that time there has been increasing pressure from international agencies and NGOs to place more emphasis on environmental dimensions in development. The interplay among the diversity of agendas and tactics adopted by the interest groups attempting to influence decision on hydroelectric projects has, in some cases, been counterproductive. ENDESA chose to withhold information and modify EIA procedures as tactics to reduce costs. The NGOs'single-minded dedication to preclusion of dam proposals tended to distort public debate. The government, presumably due to risk aversion, proved unwilling to take a proactive stance by not specifying and implementing requirements for approval of a dam project, providing a comprehensive policy framework for debate or facilitating dialogue on the issues.

KEYWORDS: Chile, river basin development, hydroelectric dams, environment, vested interests



Viewpoint - The Washington Consensus, Chilean water monopolization and the Peruvian draft water law of the 1990s

Miguel Solanes
Former Water Law Advisor to the United Nations and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; Senior Researcher, Imdea Water, Madrid, Spain;

ABSTRACT: The 1990s were an ideological period whose paradigm was the Washington Consensus. The principles of the Consensus were the guidelines for the privatisation of public utilities, and the dismantling of public service. Dogma and ideology replaced experience and science. The process of the 90s to amend the Peruvian Water Law under the aegis of the Washington Consensus is a good example of this approach. Comparative water law, water economics and anti-trust legislation and economics were ignored.The Draft Law, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture of Peru, was based on the Chilean Water Law of 1981, which resulted in the monopolisation of water resources by a few electrical companies and also in negative externalities associated with the structure of water rights and the poor regulation of water marketing. The Draft Law was part of the proposals, and conditions, of a World Bank loan. At the time it was submitted, the Chilean Government was already aware of, and worried about, the monopolisation of water rights in Chile. However, loan officers insisted on the proposal.The managers of two public agencies in Peru were concerned about the impact that the Draft Law was to have on Peruvian public interests, such as agriculture, energy, and water supply and sanitation. They spearheaded a coalition, including United States universities (New Mexico, Colorado at Boulder, California at Davis) the Water Directorate of Chile, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, agricultural water communities in Peru, and the technical offices dealing with water at the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, to have a critical discussion of the Draft Law. The discussion took several years, at the end of which the Draft was rejected.

KEYWORDS: Water, rights, economics, markets, externalities, monopolies



Viewpoint - Happy like a clam in French water

Pierre-Frédéric Ténière-Buchot
Former CEO, Agence de l'Eau Seine-Normandie (Paris, France), Vice-President 'Programme Solidarité Eau', Member of the Académie de l'Eau and of the World Water Council;

ABSTRACT: After a few lines about his personal history, the author presents the legal context for water in France in the last century, and describes the hesitant first steps of the French Agences de l'Eau during the 1970s. While the financial system of French water policy is presented in detail, the role of economic transfers between various categories of water users is underlined. Then, the general socio-political aspects of French water governance are explained. A diagram illustrating the financial decision-making procedure for water (the 'water wheel') is given. Simple advice is drawn from the experience of a CEO of a water agency: the most useful skill for a water professional is to know how to swim.

KEYWORDS: Agences de l'eau, river basin management, river basin organisation, water management



Viewpoint - Why has the south African national water act been so difficult to implement?

Barbara Schreiner
Consultant, Pegasys Strategy and Development, Pretoria, South Africa;

ABSTRACT: The South African National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) was hailed by the international water community as one of the most progressive pieces of water legislation in the world, and a major step forward in the translation of the concept of integrated water resources management (IWRM) into legislation. It has been widely quoted and referred to, and a number of countries ranging from China to Zambia have used it as an example in the revision of their own water legislation. And yet, 15 years down the line, implementation of the act has been only partially successful. In a number of critical aspects, implementation has, in fact, been weak. This paper sets out some personal reflections on the challenges facing the implementation of this remarkable piece of legislation and on the failure to achieve the initial high ambitions within the South African water sector. Through this process, it may be that there are lessons for other countries and for South Africa itself as it continues to face the challenge of implementation of the National Water Act (NWA).

KEYWORDS: Integrated Water Resources Management, institutional capacity, implementation challenges, accountability, water law, South Africa



Viewpoint -€“ Responding to context: Some lessons from experience in the water sector

Jeremy Berkoff
Independent consultant, London, UK;

ABSTRACT: This paper focuses on an important lesson arising from long experience in Asia: the importance of adapting interventions in the water sector to their context. Water is pervasive and failure to appreciate how water programmes fit within a broader economic, environmental and social context can incur large costs. Too often we outsiders, not to mention local politicians and bureaucrats, have been driven by our own thinking and interests, imposing approaches and solutions that may be appropriate in wealthier and more manageable situations but which fail to take into account the complexities of the vast regions of Asia and their huge populations, widespread poverty and traditional practices.
The argument is illustrated in two ways. First by a brief review of programmes in five widely differing river basins: the Aral Sea Basin in Central Asia; the Mahaweli Basin in Sri Lanka; the Ponniar Basin in South India; hydro-power development in Nepal and Bhutan; and the massive 3-H (Hai-Huang-Huai) basins of the North China Plain. This review illustrates how basin interventions can have profound implications for the development of whole regions, even countries, and that politicians and water professionals have too readily driven priorities that are insensitive to the real interests of the areas concerned, whether they involve action (as in the Aral Sea, Mahaweli and Ponniar cases) or inaction (as in Nepal). A measured approach (as in Bhutan and North China) within a broad understanding of the interests of the country or region concerned can have major benefits.
Second, by an assessment of the irrigation sector. Irrigation is by far the largest water user and has played a central role in Asia'€™s agricultural development, yet there has been surprisingly little progress in understanding how the prevailing context and associated incentives impact on farmer and official behaviour. This has, in my view, resulted in misjudgments concerning irrigation potential and returns. The issues are discussed under four headings: water use, crop output, institutional performance and irrigation modernisation. They may need modification in a warming world, but as they stand the paper'€™s conclusions suggest that within its context Asian irrigation is more productive -€“ and, dare I say it, efficient -€“ than is commonly supposed. Failure to recognise this fact has led to unrealistic expectations from irrigation interventions and hence to wasted resources and effort.

KEYWORDS: Water, experience, context, river basins, irrigation



Shared borders, shared waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin water challenges (Megdal, S.B., Varady, R.G. and Eden, S. (Eds). 2013).
David B. Brooks