Throughout Asia, degradation of natural resources is happening at an increasing rate and is a primary environmental concern. Recent tragedies associated with climate change have clear footprints on the land degradation and water course changing. A significant proportion of water resources are consumed through irrigation activities, where water resource degradation and water pollution are often the result of overexploitation and contamination by industrial users who make resource-use decisions based on a complex matrix of options and potential outcomes.
Asia is among one of the most dynamic regions in the world. The fundamentality of political and socioeconomic settings has been altered following the financial and economic turmoil in the region. The economic growth, infrastructure development and industrialization are swelling impacts on water resources in the form of resource degradation and social conflict at many stances. The water resource bases are decreasing at the cost to produce economic output. In a way, a part of these challenges have been offset by enhancing natural resource use efficiency and technology extension. However, the net end results are prominent in terms of increasing resource depletion and social unrest. Furthermore, climate change impacts have demanded further the need for adaptation and mitigation measures to consequences of erratic precipitation and temperature fluctuations, increased irrigation needs and extreme events such as floods and droughts, which ultimately affects the livelihood of both rural and urban communities.
In addition, in the quest for delivering the SDGs, Governments, NGOs, and academics have been searching for appropriate policy recommendations that will mitigate the trend of water resource degradation while meeting the resource demand. By promoting effective policy and building the capacity of key stakeholders, it is envisioned that sustainable development can be promoted at both the top-down and bottom-up perspectives. Capacity building in the field of water resource management and poverty alleviation is hence an urgent need for suggesting policy alternatives.
The importance of informed policy guidance in the sustainable governance and management of water resources in general have been recognized due to conflicting and competing demand and uses of these resources in the changing economic context in Asia. This is because water resources are public in partnership with state and local community but the benefits are at the individual and private level in day-to-day basis. In the larger virtual environmental context, however, the benefits and costs have global implications. There are several modes of governance and management arrangement of these resources in partnership of private-public range. Several issues related to governance and management need to be addressed that can directly feed in the ongoing policy efforts of decentralization and poverty reduction measures in Asia.
Through this research event, the following issues are of interest to seek answers to:
- How can economic growth be prudent together with holding water resources intact?
- How has decentralization of water management rights affected the resource conditions?
- How can the sustainability of efforts to improve the productive capacity of small-scale irrigation systems be assessed in the context of current debate on the effects of climate change and initiative and implementation of new programs?
- What are the effective polycentric policy approaches for governance and management of water resources that are environmentally sustainable, and gender balanced?
We propose to organize a two-day meeting on issues related to the governance of irrigation systems in Asia to be participated by the relevant experts from Asia. Based on the presentation, we intend to bring these issues forward for global audiences and policymakers in planning a special issue of International Journal of the Commons, and Ostrom Center’s continuing publication of volume VI on natural resources governance and management issues in Asia by Elsevier.
In addition, the Nepal Irrigation Institutions and Systems (NIIS) database is a key repository of data for the study of Common-Pool Resources (CPR) and Social-Ecological Systems (SES) initiated by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues from Nepal and Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. The database includes data on 233 separate irrigation systems in 29 of the 75 districts of Nepal. The number of cases which ranges from irrigation systems shared by 25 households to 5,000 households, and the number of questions (509). The database is one of the largest databases on irrigation systems in Nepal that has ever been established and analyzed. Furthermore, the database includes systems in which rules were primarily made by farmers (farmer managed) to those in which the rules for using the canals were made, fully or partly, by government agencies. This is also one of the only databases in this field of study that includes longitudinal data collected repeatedly over the last three decades. In addition, the NIIS database is an adaptation of and utilizes the same variables adopting the CPR forms. The database has provided important empirical evidence for studies of water management in Nepal and the region (Lam, 1998; Ostrom and Shivakoti, 2002; Shivakoti, et al., 2005; Ostrom, et. al., 2011).
The Asian region biennial IASC meeting in 2019 concluded that NIIS database is an important source of information for the study of water management and, hence, should continue to be updated and maintained. With the changing social-ecological systems in Nepal and the emergence of new challenges and uncertainties in Asia, there is a need for developing an Asian Irrigation Institutions and Systems (AIIS) database, building upon the structure, design and methods of NIIS. The AIIS database, which captures the eccentricity of irrigation systems across Asia, will enable researchers to conduct comparative analysis of water institutions and management, with particular reference to how water systems can be robust and resilient to shocks and disturbances. Geographical diversity within Asia will be a distinctive feature of the database which will cover irrigation systems from China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.