|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
The primary sources of water in Bangladesh are local rainfall (about 250 cubic kilometers (km3) annually) and transboundary inflows (about 1,000 km3 annually), derived mainly from the Brahmaputra, Ganges, and Meghna rivers. Bangladesh occupies only 8% of the total drainage area of these rivers but is located at their downstream end. The result is an abundant excess of surface water during the summer monsoon months and water shortfalls during the winter dry months. The impossibility of developing dam facilities prevents flow regulation throughout the year. Despite being scarce, water is not well managed. Minimal attention is given to water use efficiency and equitable allocation. Many farmers rely on groundwater to supplement the limited and irregular surface water supplies. However, in many areas, the use of groundwater is significantly constrained by arsenic contamination and aquifer limitations. Consequently, the minimum flows required to meet total dry season demands are less than what is available from surface and groundwater. Competition for water is increasing between sectors including agriculture, domestic and industrial water use, navigation, fisheries, and conservation of natural eco-habitats. Possible changes in temperature and rainfall patterns due to global warming may also modify crop-water requirements and water availability, and adversely widen the current gap between supply and demand.
Performance of irrigated agriculture and large irrigation schemes. In 2010, 31.5% of the population was living below the poverty line. Although agriculture's share of gross domestic product has declined, it is the primary economic sector in rural areas and provides 63% of rural employment. Bangladesh has a net cultivable area of around 8 million hectares (ha). In FY2012, about 5.3 million ha were irrigated; total rice production was 33.5 million tons with 56% being produced during the dry season. Irrigated agriculture productivity remains chronically low; since FY2004 paddy yields have averaged 3.6 tons/ha. The low land productivity is attributable to unreliable irrigation supply; inadequate agriculture extension services; and poor access to farm inputs, markets, and agricultural credit services. Around 550,000 ha or 11% of the total irrigated area is under large irrigation schemes. However, only 46% of this area is currently irrigated during the dry season.
The lack of efficient and sustainable MOM continues to impact the productivity of large irrigation schemes. In 2012, MOM cost recovery from project beneficiaries of the Muhuri, Ganges- Kobadak, and Teesta irrigation schemes averaged 24%: Muhuri 63%, Teesta 18%, and Ganges Kobadak 0.26%. As a consequence, the schemes' infrastructure is degraded and needs rehabilitation and modernization. Other factors include inadequate government financing, lack of beneficiary empowerment and engagement in MOM, and limited capacity of public agencies resulting in weak service delivery. Specific issues in MIP are (i) inadequate budget for system MOM; (ii) lack of distinction between annual, periodic, or emergency maintenance of a system; and (iii) poor cost recovery from water management groups.
Since 2000 substantial efforts have been made to improve irrigation MOM through the introduction of participatory irrigation management, which has been generally successful on small and medium-sized schemes in Bangladesh but yielded limited results for large schemes. The variable performance of participatory irrigation management in improving irrigation MOM is internationally documented and private sector participation through public private partnership (PPP) is seen as an alternative approach. It has demonstrated promising results in a few developing countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia, and Morocco but is still to be developed in Asia. In 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided technical assistance (TA) to the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) to examine alternative approaches of service delivery agreements and management arrangements including PPP for sustainable irrigation MOM in large irrigation schemes. The TA proposed a conceptual framework for engaging a third party operator to address the shortcomings of the MIP's MOM. It established the basis for the social and economic feasibility of the approach and confirmed farmers' willingness to pay.
The National Water Policy, adopted in 1999, sets out a comprehensive framework for the water sector in general and for large surface water irrigation schemes, including a strategic vision comprising private irrigation MOM through leasing, concession, or management contracts. The government has established policy, legal, institutional, and planning frameworks for the water sector, which provide a suitable environment for developing necessary sector reforms. The Water Act, promulgated in May 2013, revised and consolidated existing laws that govern the ownership, utilization, and financial management of water.
The Sixth Five-Year Plan, 2011 to 2015 recognizes the need to increase agricultural productivity, foster crop diversification, and boost public spending on rural infrastructure. The plan also presents a strategic direction for medium- and large-scale surface water irrigation. At its highest level, the strategy focuses on modernization and improved management of existing irrigation systems and expansion of irrigation areas. To reduce public costs in sustainably operating these schemes and to improve delivery service, the strategy encourages the use of PPP wherever appropriate. As part of an overall investment program for the water sector, the government has approved an investment plan to rehabilitate and modernize all large surface water irrigation schemes at an estimated total cost of $745 million. The project will support the modernization of the MIP's infrastructure and MOM, including transferring MOM to the private sector. The project will finance preparation of a modernization strategy, including feasibility studies and detailed designs, for the Ganges -Kobadak and Teesta irrigation projects.
MIP construction was completed in 1986. The design enabled dry season irrigation as well as supplemental wet season irrigation by constructing the Feni Closure Dam and Regulator to create a reservoir downstream of the confluence of the Feni, Muhuri, and Kalidash- Pahalia rivers. The backwater from the barrage enters the natural khals (channels) and canal network by gravity. From there it was to be lifted by about 800 low-lift diesel pumps to irrigate the fields. The project was to increase the dry season rice area from about 6,000 ha to 20,000 ha. Initially, farmers experienced major improvements in production and were able to cultivate much larger areas with rice; however, siltation of the reservoir and khals due to lack of maintenance and reduced runoff in the river has reduced the benefits over the years. The area irrigated in the dry season decreased to 11,300 ha. The increased cost of diesel fuel combined with low pump efficiency and decrease in the rice price contributed to discouraging farmers from cultivating. Opportunities to substantially increase water use efficiency and reduce pumping cost through innovative design modernization and improved MOM were identified during the project preparatory TA and will be supported by the project.
The project is consistent with ADB's Strategy 2020 and country partnership strategy for Bangladesh, 2011 to 2015 by reinforcing core areas of operations (such as infrastructure and water resources management) and investing in irrigation infrastructure modernization.