United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                      EXPERT GROUP MEETING



                           27 - 30 January 1998

                             Harare, Zimbabwe

                  Integrated Water Resources Management: 
                        A Community-based Approach


                   Gourisankar Ghosh and Sadig Rasheed 

                               Paper No.  7

                             Prepared for the 
                 Department of Economic and Social Affairs
                              United Nations 

           Integrated Water Resources Management: A Right Based 
                             Community Approach 
                      Towards Sustainable Development
                   Gourisankar Ghosh and Sadig Rasheed 1/

The global crisis of Freshwater has attracted much recent
attention.  It is increasingly  acknowledged that the real
problem behind rural poverty is the shortage of natural
resources like biomass and water, rather than income
poverty. The crucial strategic role of water in fighting
poverty and in economic and rural development and the need for an
integrated approach to water management are also well-recognized. But
the multiple usage of water in survival and development makes its
management more difficult, both institutionally and spatially, and
much remains to be learned and understood about the implementation of
such an approach. This paper will highlight some relevant issues
regarding integrated management of water  that require open dialogue
between stakeholders at all levels.

Crucial role of Water in The Village ecosystem:

The "exploitation" of water has long been a source of political and
economic conflict as well as of human survival. Today, it is widely
understood that sustainable economic development and sustainable 
"exploitation," or use, of water must include the right of  individuals
and communities to this precious resource. Beyond the purely economic
value of water resources to a nationžs development, the long-term
"interest" of the nation and all its people must also be considered. 
Recently the Committee on Natural Resources of the Economic and Social
Council of the United Nations "noted with alarm that some eighty
countries, comprising 40% of the world's population, are already
suffering from serious water shortages and that, in many cases, the
scarcity of water resources has become the  a significant  limiting
factor to economic and social development."

Freshwater as a crucial physical national resource is neither fully
understood nor well-managed. As most developing countries are
agriculturally based, there is inherent conflict between the need for
water to supply  irrigation and supply drinking water for the poor. 
Water plays a significant role in the daily survival and improvement
of the primary health or nutritional status of children and women.
Moreover, water,  land, forest,  biomass  and livestock are
interdependent and the benefits of water development spread across the
social and economic sectors. Thus, the issue of water cannot be
studied in isolation or in a narrow sectoral fashion. 

    Figure 1 - Complex Village Ecosystem. (Agarwal and Narain, 1989)

                         [ not available ]

a village is a complex land-livestock-vegetation ecosystem in which
the land, the water, the livestock, and the energy sub-systems all
interrelate. Sustainable development must be based on the holistic
enrichment of the entire village ecosystem without destroying the
synergy between the various subsystems  Projects to promote economic
growth and rural development for poverty alleviation must focus on the
integrated management of the complex village ecosystem.

Agarwal and Narain elaborated that a village Ecosystem Management and
Improvement Plan must be developed based on the villagežs natural
resources, basic needs and social structure.  Because the
vulnerable and marginalised groups in the village may
depend more on its common resources, any village ecosystem
improvement plan should safeguard their access to these

Society cannot progress within a framework that supports government
actions while discouraging those of  the people. Communities must have
ownership in the development of their own  water systems and other
resource bases, and  Government's proper role is to provide the right
legal, institutional and financial support and encouragement for local
Poverty Alleviation, Economic Growth and Freshwater:

The Human Development Report of 1997 (UNDP) has made a clear
distinction between  mere income poverty and deprivation of  basic
human needs which are directly related to basic human rights. The
World Bank in its "Rural Well Being" approach has identified the need
to build "social capital".  In the  human poverty index used in the
Human Development Report of UNDP,  access to health services and to
safe water were considered the most reliable  basic indicators.
Combining these two access variables with the prevalence of
malnutrition provides a fairly broad picture of economic
provisioning---private and public--- to supplement the information on
survival and literacy.  (Human Development Report, UNDP, 1997 page 19).

For centuries, village economies were based on a  respect for nature,
protection of natural resources and the development of an economic
activity model that maintained harmony between social and economic
issues and political and religious concerns. The current global
economic system and its associated development paradigm are oblivious
to traditional knowledge and to the spiritual and ethical concerns
that are central to many societies and cultures. ( Kamala Chowdhury, 
Rural Well Being, The World Bank, 1996). 

   Figure 2 - Components of a village ecosystem and improvement plan
              (Agarwal and Narain)

                       [ not available ]

     "To understand the local economy of people not just with
     different lifestyles but also that of the rural poor across
     the developing world, economists will have to make a big
     effort to understand another major dimension of poverty --
     the dimension that emerges out of the relationship that the
     poor have with their environment or their natural resources
     base which provides them with the daily wherewithal for
     their survival.  This dimension remains so ill-understood
     largely because most development workers and economists --
     except possibly for that fraction which studies natural
     resource economics or environmental economics-- do not
     understand environmental issues.  And most environmentalists
     --except possibly for that fraction in the Southern
     countries which works with local communities to help them
     regenerate their environment-- do not understand poverty."
     (Agarwal et al, 1997).

Water has always been at the centre of  village planning. Yet, the
interlinkage between water, land, livestock and forest was clearly
noted by Agarwal, who said that unless poverty alleviation is
approached in an integrated manner, interventions will not be
fruitful. It is also clear that effective integrated water management
is possible only at the community level and with community ownership.
a topdown approach in the development of national policies is
ineffective because it ignores the important element of ownership in
implementation. International agencies helping countries to develop a
national water policy and institutional mechanism to handle the
consequences need to take a fresh look at their approaches as standard 
institutional structure is not equipped to deal with poverty
alleviation, equity and rights to the resources.  Decentralization of
the institutions and the policy development process may be an answer. 
UNICEF's Primary Environmental Care approach  as well as numerous
grassroots NGO projects have also conceptualized this idea by
emphasizing community empowerment for managing local natural resources
to meet people's basic needs on a sustainable basis.

Water Crisis - Drought, Flood and Epidemic:

a study  by the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE) presented to
the parliamentarians of India in 1987,  observed that the total flood-
prone areas in India had almost tripled during 1978-1984.The study
also observed that in the same period, in almost the same areas,
drought proneness increased. These two seemingly contradictory
conditions are consistent, linked through their  direct correlation
with the regionžs deforestation.  Removal of forest, washing of top
soil, over-exploitation of grazing land, inequitable distribution of
irrigated water, and neglect of the traditional tanks or water
reservoirs have led to both increased flood and drought conditions.
Moreover, contrary to the popular belief that these conditions are due
to overuse by the indigenous population, it has instead resulted
primarily  from the consumption demand associated with indiscriminate
commercial exploitation (some of it to supply raw materials to a 
foreign market) and urban growth. The traditional balance between the
forest and its native dwellers, and that of the agricultural
activities and livestock grazing land was disturbed by the open market
economy and higher demand for forest products in urban markets.

 Figure 3 - The PPE Spiral from The State of the World Children 1995, UNICEF

                              [ not available ]

The water management cycle cannot be complete without a balanced
approach towards the management of the entire ecosystem, as displayed
in Anil Agarwal's earlier diagram. The issue and problem are as local
as they are global, and solutions must lie in full participation of
all stakeholders at all levels, including ownership by communities and
civil society. This was proven to be the case in the Jhabua case study
presented in the interagency workshop, 'Integrated Rural Water
Management' organized by FAO in 1993.

Gopalakrishnan in his study for the UNICEF paper "Policies, strategies
and planning for integrated rural water management--a case study of Jhabua
district of Madhya Pradesh state in India" presented in the same workshop,
identified three specific factors that helped the district administration to
make water harvesting a central issue in the drought relief agenda:

-    generation of public opinion to demand water-harvesting structures;
-    creation of political will to make any intervention a long-term
-    coordination of agriculture, irrigation, local government, health
     (eradication of guinea worm and diarrhoea), and school bodies
     (awareness campaign) activities with complete public participation.

By 1986,  1323 villages in Jhabua had gained access to nearly six
thousand hand pumps, covering more than 98% of its hamlets. Most of
these pumps were supported by large scale augmentation of groundwater
resources that took place through recharge from surface storage of the
tanks and stop dams.

The two-fold increase of the area under irrigation from 1985-1992
resulted in the harvesting of two crops per year and a significant
increase in income level. Guinea worm was fully eradicated and the
social communication plan for guinea worm eradication provided an
intervention model for drastic reduction of other water-related
diseases. Despite this success, however,  the Jhabua case study
reveals that direct action of the community in environmental
management is far from realized. The structures or systems created 
for water-harvesting reservoirs are still considered government
properties, and a real sense of ownership will not be developed  until
power is decentralized and local governments are given the
responsibilities.  a steady erosion of the "rights" to common property
resources has contributed to an environment that limits the collective
action of the community. It is also true that areas undergoing
environmental crises have a potential for radical change, social
mobilization and collective action. a turnaround is possible only
through an agenda of combating poverty and eco-reconstruction with
full community participation and respect for the inherent right of the

The recent drought in Southern Africa illustrated a similar situation.
Community-constructed wells became the source of both drinking water
and small-scale irrigation.  But the potential of the conjunctive use
of surface and ground water, while fully realized by the communities,
is not completely institutionalized in Sub Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan
Africa already faces serious land degradation, having lost 22% of its
vegetated soils. Climatic changes associated with increasing aridity
and decertification, a rapidly growing population in the midst of
declining productivity, and faulty public policies have exacerbated
the problem (Ysefaye Teklu, 1996). When this is coupled with rainfall
reduction, the promotion of  economic growth causes a diversion of
water and further degradation is the result. Thus, the issues
regarding household food and water security are so interrelated that
one cannot be successful without the other. No policy or reform can be
pushed  without taking note of both. 

Environmental degradation causes both floods and droughts in the same
location, sometimes in immediate sequence.  In this vicious cycle,
epidemics of water related diseases do not lag far behind. General
malnutrition, due to inadequate water quality and supply causes a
series of water related diseases resulting in a chronic malnutrition
cycle and a high morbidity and mortality rates of  children. In urban
areas as well, the environmentally fragile situations may cause
serious epidemics like plague, hepatitis or serious malnutrition
resulting from earthquake, flood or drought. 

Conjunctive use of Surface and Ground Water:

Although in the hydrological cycle  the linkages of surface and ground
water are clearly established, groundwater is often neglected as
a potential national resource base. Aquifers can store large volumes of water
with almost no evaporation loss. They are generally pollution free and  a
source of safe drinking water unless contaminated by fluoride, arsenic or
salinity due to over drawl.

In extreme dry spells the only source of water is the groundwater. The
conjunctive use of ground and surface water is ideal for balancing the
recharge of the aquifer.  Groundwater supplies more than half of the US
drinking water and nearly 96% of the water consumed in rural areas of the
country. In countries of Asia, ground water is often the main source of supply
for both drinking water and irrigation. In the absence of proper management,
competing demands may result in the heavier agricultural requirements causing
a disabling of drinking water supply devices and a lowering of the water

                  Social Equity and Groundwater

In Western Indian state of Gujarat water is a precious commodity.
Over-abstraction has caused the water table to fall, in some places by
as much as 40 metres. This has deprived the poor farmers of water
since they can afford only the surface or sub-surface water. Only the
rich farmers can afford the $15000-20000 worth boreholes down to the
depth of 400 metres. The water indirectly is controlled by such
farmers who in turn at their will sell the water to poorer farmers. A
groundwater law was enacted but not ratified by the government as the
poorer farmers do not have representation in the power structure of
the government. New schemes continued to be developed by the rich
farmers utilizing water even from deeper aquifers without any control.
The area has prospered but migration to urban areas started as the
marginal farmers were forced to sell their lands and move in search of
urban jobs.

The majority of the world's urban population relies on ground water
and on spot sources  rather than on a piped water supply based on
surface reservoirs.  The percentage of as high as 50% or more
dependance  on the ground water source is increasing as the surface
water supply is becoming less dependable due to a lack of adequate
investment in its development and greater loss in the piped
distribution system. The decentralized system of urban development
demands more emphasis on urban geology and the urban aquifer
development as a safe and cheaper source of water. Yet, urbanization
and its heavy demand for water have resulted in falling water tables
under many of the world's cities, reducing yields by the threat of
saline ingress and land subsidence.  Salinity ingress is a common
phenomenon in Manila, Jakarta, Madras and many other cities. Some of
the heavy withdraw of groundwater in Urban areas are by the rich and
the poor pays high percentage of their income to pay for that water. 

Privatization, National Water Policies  and the Rights Issues:

a huge and widening investment gap exists between the actual
requirement of capital and its mobilization in the water sector in
both irrigation and domestic use. Moreover, the resources required for
operation and maintenance are also often inadequate, resulting in
inefficient systems, unmet demand and poor services. Privatization or
commercialization is seen as a way to increase both efficiency and
capital mobilization. But the solution is not so simple, for
privatization often means žcherry picking' of the profitable segments 
of the sector leaving poorer areas to fend for themselves. To attract
foreign capital, governments are often eager to surrender their rights
on bulk water pricing and control, agreeing to conditions and clauses
which sacrifice the national interest and the right of people to safe
and sufficient water use.

Water is a national social and economic resource. If the decision is
made to use it for national development or attracting capital then the
added value or income should also be reinvested in the social sector.
Exploiting this precious resource, few developed and developing
nations alike are either investing the extra income in the social
sector or supporting the 20/20 principle of resource mobilization for
the social sector to meet the Basic Human Needs.  ( Please refer to a
separate paper available for the participants specially prepared by
Brikke, Visscher and Ankersmit, The Hague, 1998). 

Equitable control of ground water at the local level is also often
lacking.  A rich farmer or enterprise can indulge in heavy drawl of
groundwater through deep well pumping, lowering the water level and
removing potential groundwater resources from the reach of the poor
who have an equal right to national resources. In India where minor
irrigation comprises nearly 50% of the total irrigation coverage, the
issue of control on use  of groundwater  is so significant that poor
marginal farmers are slowly losing their productivity due to an
absence of social and legislative control of the exploitation of
ground water (See box in page 7 ). In contrast, empowerment of such
farmers can produce a different result as given in the box below.

                    The Ralegan Siddhi Experience

     Ralegan Siddhi is a model of development in a drought-prone area
of Maharashtra where average rainfall is 400 mm per year and where the
villagers were not even assured one regular crop.  In summer, they
would regularly accept the state-sponsored drought relief measures. 
Today, Ralegan Siddhi has solved its scarce water conditions through
an elaborate system of small dams and watershed development, drip
irrigation and biogas. Not a single inhabitant of the village depends
on drought relief and per capita income has increased substantially.

     Anna Hazare --a retired driver from the Indian army-- began
work in the village by constructing storage ponds, reservoirs and
gully plugs.  Due to the steady percolation of water, the groundwater
table began to rise.  Simultaneously, government social forestry
schemes were utilised to plant 400,000 trees in and around the
village.  The total area under production increased from 630 to 950
hectare.  The average yields of millets, sorghum and onion increased
substantially.  Water is distributed equitably. Cultivation of
sugarcane, which requires a large quantity of water and was forbidden
in the early years, was no possible..

     An impressive system of decision making is taking place the
village as some 14 committees operate to ensure people's
participation. The elected village council is  composed entirely of
women.  All families get water in turn and no farmer will get a second
turn of irrigation until all families have been served.  Since the
commons belong to all, even the landless families --four to five in
the village-- have a right to the water.  Even where individuals hand
dug wells, they have been persuaded to share water with others.

     Ralegan Siddhi has now a bank of its own.  The savings of Ralegan
Siddhi alone is Rs. 2.3 million (about US$ 60,000). For a village
that, less than two decades ago, was a drunkardžs den with a badly
degraded environment, this is indeed a miracle.

Source: Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, Creating Sustainable
Livelihoods, Centre for Science and Environment, 1997.

The water crisis is more local than global but most interventions are
now global.  The global approach to the problem may help to articulate
the issues but the solutions have to be suited to local requirements.
For that reason the  coordinating, moderating  and facilitating role
of government should not be underestimated.  The role of the
international community should be to help those governments with less
capacity to build the capacity to protect and conserve the precious
resource for development and not settle for short term gains
detrimental to the long term interests of their people and

The question of equitable control and distribution of water resources
is a complex problem.  Water is a complex issue, difficult/impossible
institutionally to manage in one ministry or department. The impact is also
difficult to measure as there is no  linear correlation between water resource
development  and improvements in  health, nutrition, education or 
income generation a proper National Water Policy should focus on
national interest above profit and  recognize water as a precious
national resource. It should balance national and local needs and
interests, industrial, agricultural and domestic use.

          Consensus on the issues of water Management:

-    Water is key to development
-    Water is a key social and economic resources for any nation   
-    Right to water must be protected for equity as well as
     sustainable development
-    Water is key to Improved Health, Improved Nutrition and Quality
     of life
-    Private - Public partnership is essential for development of the
     water resources
-    Community based management is essential to conserve, properly
     utilize and develop the water resources.
-    Sustainable Water resource development is possible only through
     an integrated approach to soil, water, forest and livestock. 

Development of the National Water  Policy:

a national policy is needed to provide a statement to the people the
priorities in that society for effective water management talking into
consideration all aspects and demands of domestic, agriculture and
industrial sectors. If there is consensus for the management of water
resources through community participation then  how can policies be
developed in a top down approach through discussions solely at the
national/global level? The recent South African experience shows the
need for discussion and consensus development at all levels of the
civil society. The country had to reverse the earlier  policy of
controlled bulk water  for only the big cities and large white farmers
to a equitable distribution for all the entire society and earlier
homelands through  a process of open consultation and  debate at all
levels and then enacting the law in the parliament.  The commitment of
the entire nation to the development of any policy can best  be 
achieved through the fullest people's participation. 

Capacity Building at the community level:

While the importance of the participatory role  of the community is
recognized, often the policy makers put forward  arguments  on the
lack of  capacity and capabilities at that level. These myths are
reinforced by the fact that  capacity building exercises are often
confined to the national level and neglecting the needs of  local
institutions and communities only perpetuate this myth. The example of
Ralegan Siddhi shows how the community can take the control of
management of water then gain out of it and control their own 
development process. There needs to be much greater attention to
capacity building at the local level.

Balancing Urban-Rural Need:

Water reservoirs and catchment areas are all contained in rural areas.
Development of  water resources without involvement of the communities
living in those areas will create inevitable conflict and impede
proper management. This includes conflicts of  demand management
between the agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors within and
between rural and urban areas. It is critical that these  demands are
met in a balanced fashion.  The problems of Urban water supply for
domestic and economical purposes has to be met with. The problem and
demand can not be looked upon in isolation. Often politically the
urban-rural divide is formed which must be resolved in the approach to
be developed in a national water policy.

Private Management:

The concept of  private management and public control of water
resources needs to be clearly elaborated.  Private management of water
resources is welcome  and often  desirable.   Private distribution
systems have been more successful, but bulk water and river basin
management must be carried out through participation and safeguarding
the rights of the people.

The poor are those who most often  pay more and have less access to
water, while and the rich pay less and consume more. The poor are
still marginalised when it comes to benefits from the sector
investment and relying on  privatisation does not change that
situation. In some cases, when profits and lack of regulations or
control become the operating principles, it even worsens it. The role
of the government to oversee the process and protect the right of
these poorer populations through legislation and decentralised
governance with people's participation. 

Private resources should be brought in for capital resource
mobilization and improved management of the water resources. The
private sector cannot and should not be expected to subsidize and
provide water for the poor. The responibility of control on bulk
water, its distribution, control  and ownership should remain with the
government.  The private sector should concentrate on effectively
meeting demand 

National Planning:

a national demand management system is critical. This includes a wide
range of activities, such as: planning for efficient water irrigation
systems; conjunctive use of ground and surface water;  waste water
recycling; recharging of the ground water; allocation of water for
urban areas, industries, agriculture; use of pesticides, fertilizers
etc.; monitoring control and protection of water quality; monitoring
of the water flow. Building of institutions and capacity building
around these activities is also critical. However, experience has
shown that the cost of such an approach is beyond the means of many
developing nations. Therefore, capacity building and monitoring
through decentralised institutions will be helpful and desirable.A
centralised and yet democratic planning process is not necessarily in
contradiction with a decentralised governance mechanism.

Land Reform and Water Policy:

The water or hydrological cycle involves interplay with the land and
soil. Water reform must go hand and hand with land reform and land
policy. This is a burning issue facing many nations and typically
handled in isolation from water  issues.  As shown earlier the entire
ecosystem depends on land and water equally and the reform in one can
not be without the reform in the other.

Role Of Government as coordinator and facilitator:

The role of government is not only  as a provider  but also as a
facilitator and coordinator of the freshwater sector cannot be
underestimated. Clear setting of  policies and programmes not only
attracts investors but  raises confidence in the private-public
partnership. The decentralization process should encourage the
community to take initiatives and improve self control and 
monitoring. However, the responsibilities of the government will be
best judged  in protecting the rights of citizens to water resources.

It is clear that partnerships with civil societies and private sector
is key for success. Equal partnership with NGOs will help to develop
new and experimental approaches. Without decentralization and
partnership no government will be true to the spirit of water for all
or to sustainable development goals.  How this can this most
effectively be done is a question which  must be resolved.


Access to water is the fundamental right of the people. Freshwater
which is the source of the drinking water supply and basic input for
agriculture, the livelihood of the worldžs poor population is a basic
human need and right. This precious resource should be protected and
utilized for the development and empowerment of the population.
Integrated water management is not merely the  development of 
policies on paper but actually implementation of the same through a
participatory process and decentralised institutions. Governments have
to work closely  with civil society and NGOs for capacity building and
empowerment of the people and to protect their rights to the precious
national resource.

The New Delhi slogan: " Some for All and Not All for Some" adopted in
1990 after the International decade of Drinking Water and Sanitation
has been modified by the motto adopted by the South African Government
which spells out the spirit of integrated water management for the
future: "Some for all forever."  


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Education By John Briscoe, Richard Feachem and M Mujibur Rahaman, UNICEF,
ICDDR,Bangladesh, IDRC, Canada, 1986

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Ismail Serageldin and David Steeds, The World Bank, 1997

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Teun Visscher and WillemAnkersmit, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1998.

World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for Development by The
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First Call For Children , UNICEF 1990

State of the World Children, UNICEF, Oxford University Press, 1995.

ADD: Primary Environmental Care reference


1/   Gourisankar Ghosh is Chief, Water, Environment and Sanitation, Programme
Division, UNICEF New York.  Sadig Rasheed is Director, Programme Division,
UNICEF New York.  The opinions expressed in the paper are those of the authors
and not the official view of UNICEF.  The authors are grateful for the
comments of Alfredo Missair and especially to Dr. Anil Agarwal of CEC, New
Delhi  for extensive use of his materials.

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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
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