18 The Water Management Partnership

From Blue Gold Program Wiki

The Guidelines for Participatory Water Management[1] and the Participatory Water Management Rules[2] provide a legal basis for the establishment of Water Management Groups and Associations and regulate – in considerable detail – their functioning. While a legal basis is important, the new organisations also need to simply prove their worth if they are to be seen as a serious factor in water management. Making a difference by hands-on improving water management conditions, as described in chapter 17 helps; but recognition as being a legitimate player also requires that the new organisations establish cordial working relations with existing, well-established organisations in their locality. Such a partnership is all the more important, as partners help a new organisation achieve goals that are beyond its own limited capacity.

Briefing Materials
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The following materials illustrate concepts, interventions, outcomes and lessons learnt, including through stories from community members.
Slide decks
Thematic brochures

A central relationship, on which WMAs should build their performance, is of course with BWDB. This is not only because the BWDB is the registrar for WMGs and WMAs, but especially so since the BWDB and the WMAs have a shared responsibility towards the upkeep of the polders.

  • In the coastal zone proper water infrastructure for flood protection and water management is essential for protection of the polder inhabitants and for their economic development, in particular agricultural production. Any damages, whether due to natural disasters, erosion or manmade, will undermine the functioning of the water infrastructure. The costs for maintaining the infrastructure can be high, even more so when emergency repairs are needed after disasters, such as floods or cyclones.
  • The costs for maintenance, repairs and rehabilitation are substantial and the BWDB generally has an O&M budget that is not adequate to meet all the requirements. Local government institutions (LGIs) neither have the mandate nor the budget to take up repair and maintenance costs; and for local communities the required sums would take-up a substantial part of the value added in agriculture, due to the protection offered by the embankments. The fact that the polders protect life and goods of a substantial population and economy, should mean that maintenance is funded to an extent by public resources. Possibly, the LGIs, which are public institutions close to the communities benefiting from well-functioning infrastructure,  should have a mandate and budget for such maintenance and/or repairs. The 2018 Water Rules created opportunities for an increased role of LGIs in Integrated Water Resources Management, but this still needs to be elaborated. 
  • Under Blue Gold, a transitional solution was therefore sought, which comprises of an O&M Agreement per polder signed between the WMAs and BWDB. The purpose of the agreement is to sustain the benefits of the improved water infrastructure by setting out the responsibilities for operation and maintenance. Operation especially refers to operating the hydraulic structures to optimize water management; maintenance refers to routine, periodic and emergency maintenance. A sample O&M Agreement is available in Bangla and in English. The main responsibilities that are spelled out in the agreements are presented in table 18.1.

Table 18.1: Main responsibilities for Operation and Maintenance of water infrastructure as in the O&M agreements signed between WMA and BWDB.

# Water infrastructure Operation Routine


Periodic maintenance Emergency maintenance
1 Embankments WMA BWDB BWDB
2 Hydraulic infrastructure WMA WMA BWDB BWDB
3 Channels (khals) WMA BWDB* BWDB
4 IPWM infrastructure WMA WMA

*Based on the demand of WMA

By February 2020, O&M agreements had been signed by BWDB’s Executive Engineer and representatives of the Executive Committees of 35 WMAs for the 22 BGP polders. Special agreement signing ceremonies (batch 1, batch 2 and batch 3) have been organised, wherein usually also high level representatives of LGIs (Union), BWDB, DAE and BGP were present, to endorse the agreements.

It is as yet too early to draw conclusions whether the agreements are implemented by the parties concerned. However, the WMAs would be well-advised to not rely on only its relationship with BWDB, but to look for partners in their close vicinity to help them play their role in water management for local economic development.

National legislation, policies and development plans and budgets are steadily moving towards a greater role for and reliance on local governance institutions. This provides opportunities for local governments – and especially the Union Parishads to assume more prominence. Inhabitants of the Southwest and especially the poorer segments stand to benefit from local governments that are partner in securing services, and which contribute to the efficiency and sustainability of these services[3].

At the project's initial stage, the community mobilisation by BGP paid little heed to the role of the Union Parishads vis-à-vis water management; beyond the legal provision that the UP Chairman is an advisor to the WMG. As a follow-on to the study referred to above, BGP prepared in 2015 a sourcebook of examples existing on the ground of constructive cooperation between WMGs and Union Parishads[4]. This proved that – despite of not being strongly pursued by BGP – support from Union Parishads to WMG establishment and performance is an existing and generally successful practice. Where WMGs are good at articulating the aspirations of communities with respect to water management; the UPs were able to ensure orderly WMG elections; helped resolve conflicts of WMGs with third parties; e.g. in the case of obstructed drainage flows; and provided authority to WMG action such as canal cleaning. Union’s moreover showed leadership in emergency response and were helpful in obtaining right-of-way for construction of new embankments.

From this point in 2015, the involvement of LGIs and specifically the Unions with the WMOs and with BGP was pursued more systematically and actively:

  • Induction workshops were held with the Unions and Upazila at the time of entry of the program in a particular polder to explain objectives and request active support. Where, in a number of cases, BGP’s intervention had already started, this resulted in a degree of initial push-back, fed by the frustration of being involved late in the process; but most of these workshops concluded with commitment by LGIs to the implementation of BGP.
  • WMGs were more explicitly promoted to build good relations with the Unions; and the quality of their relation with the Union became a criteria in the monitoring system and in the self-monitoring promoted by BGP.
  • Capacity building events for WMGs and WMAs involved LGI representatives and explicitly paid attention to planning joint activities and building a good relationship.
  • LGIs were involved in the catchment planning process and were fully informed of the O&M agreement that was developed between the WMA and the BWDB. A logical further step would have been to appoint the LGIs as the third party in the polder-level O&M agreement alongside the WMA(s) and the BWDB O&M Division, but this would have required a lengthy process of adjustment to the BWDB Participatory Water Management Rules.
  • Once WMAs were established, BGP organised interactive sessions per Upazila where the WMA presented itself and its aspirations to the concerned local governments and the departments that had been decentralised to this level.

At the same time, WMGs – and later on also the WMAs – were promoted to engage with other organisations, agencies and companies for the realisation of their aspirations. This often matched with the ‘collective actions’ undertaken by WMGs or WMG members. When the purchase of inputs was coordinated across a WMG or a sub-section thereof, this led to a stronger relationship with market partners; where co-funding was sought for small-scale infrastructure, relations with e.g. LGED were developed. Experience shows that the legitimacy of a WMO (WMG or WMA) depends on the respect it can gain from its constituents and from other local organisations. A strong focus on networking and partnership must therefore be a core element of building the capacity of new organisations.

The present regulatory framework for the WMOs places great importance on the centralised review of the WMO performance, especially in the field of maintaining basic organisational routines (regular meetings, good note keeping and financial management, timely elections and so on) but does not define how WMOs interact with and depend on their local network. Especially the role of the UPs vis-à-vis the WMGs is poorly defined. The articulation of an explicit role for local governments in the future practice of PWM is an essential improvement that needs priority attention.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Guidelines for Participatory Water Management. Government of Bangladesh, Ministry of Water Resources. November 2000.
  2. Participatory Water Management Rules (BWDB, unofficial translation). Government of Bangladesh. 2014.
  3. Blok, K. and Begum, R. (July 2013). "Capacity Building of Local Governments in South-West Bangladesh". Identification Report. VNG International.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. Engaging Local Government Institutions in Water Management – DRAFT Sourcebook (PDF). Euroconsult Mott MacDonald & Associates. February 2015.

See also[edit | edit source]

Previous chapter:
Chapter 17: In-polder water management
Blue Gold Lessons Learnt Wiki
Section D: BGP Interventions: Participatory Water Management
Next chapter:
Chapter 19: Operationalisation of the PWM concept
Section D: BGP Interventions: Participatory Water Management
Chapter 14: Consultation and participation in planning Chapter 15: WMO capacity building Chapter 16: Women’s participation in water management
  1. Polder Development Plan
  2. WMG Action Plans
  1. From individual to group capacity
  2. From transferring knowledge to promoting behaviour change
  3. From dependence to self-reliance
  4. From autonomous WMGs to networked organisations
  1. Background
  2. Blue Gold approach
  3. Why is water management important for women?
  4. Why are women important for water management?
  5. Results
  6. Enabling factors and challenges
Chapter 17: In-polder water management Chapter 18: The Water Management Partnership Chapter 19: Operationalisation of the PWM concept
  1. Context
  2. Interventions: a mix to address all scales
  3. In-Polder Water Management as a step forward
  1. Trend 1: ‘Water management through business development’ or ‘business development through water management’
  2. Trend 2: Supporting functional water management organisations
  3. Trend 3: From O&M to Local Economic Development; from task to mandate
  4. Trend 4: Unit of organisation: from pre-defined to pragmatic
  5. Sustainability – a discussion
Chapter 20: Way Forward
Blue Gold Wiki
Executive summary: A Call for Action
Section A: Background and context Section B: Development Outcomes Section C: Water Infrastructure


Summary and Introduction


Section D: BGP Interventions: Participatory Water Management Section E: Agricultural Development Section F: Responsible Development: Inclusion and Sustainability




Section G: Project Management Section H: Innovation Fund Files and others