M5 – Institutional Framework of Water Use

Partner: HRW in cooperation with UAF


Cotton farmers in Punjab Pakistan get approximately half of their irrigation water from a vast canal system known as the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS) – the biggest irrigation system in the world. Since British colonial times certain formal and informal rules also known as the Warabandi system have been established to allocate this surface water among farmers. However, in recent decades there has been a constant decline of the physical infrastructure as well as a decline in water services to farmers by the public irrigation agency.

A detailed analysis of water laws, rules in use, and everyday practices in the province of Punjab provides a conceptual framework for proposals to improve the water efficiency in irrigation, including on-farm proposals for farmers. Since both policy and technical recommendations can only be sustainable if they are imbedded in the specific local institutional and cultural framework. 

Current Results
A survey conducted in 2018 with 150 farmers in three districts in Punjab confirms a deficit in the representation of farmers as well as in communication between different levels of organization. Furthermore, monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms are only marginally applied. Thus, harmonizing formal and informal rules and coordinating responsibilities between different hydraulic levels in Pakistan are most crucial for a sustainable irrigation management.

The recent state of research suggests that despite promising attempts to reform the water sector most of the system inherent problems persist. Among those problems are an underfunded budget for operation and maintenance, a discrimination of farmers at the tail-end of the canal system who receive less water, and a lack of incentives for farmers at the head of the canal system to conserve water.

Expected Outcome
We anticipate that a deep understanding of the state of the Indus Basin Irrigation System will enable to identify potential institutional solutions such as incentives for water conservation and cost-effective water tariffs to bridge those gaps. Some of those suggestions will also be incorporated in the technical on-farm proposals laid out by partners of InoCottonGROW.