Lessons from the Blue Gold Program
The Blue Gold Program is a program focused on water management for development, a project of Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) and Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE). Their target is to reduce poverty for 150,000 households living in 160,000ha area of selected coastal polders, by creating a healthy living environment and sustainable socio-economic development. Due to the effect of extreme events, people living in the coastal polders are vulnerable to salinity intrusion and are facing the impacts of severe events for example cyclones. Moreover, in the Patuakhali area, water scarcity is frequently reported rather than waterlogging.
To address this situation, the governments of Bangladesh and the Netherlands have agreed to support the development of the coastal region through participatory water management (PWM) and agricultural production with a business-orientation. The Blue Gold Program (BGP) has been a combined effort of climate developments in the country. The program is trying to enhance the dialogue initiation between researchers, practitioners, beneficiaries and policymakers and is trying to make water management organizations sustainable. The activities under the program have been making a difference as we will explore below.
The table here summarizes the initiative taken under the program and the key outcomes from them.
Operation and maintenance agreement with BWDB.
Union Parishad is backing Water Management Organization (WMO)s to control sluices and khals.
Small scale infrastructure for the Water Management within the polder is helping to optimize the polder for Water Management.
The productivity of land in coastal Bangladesh is improved by participatory water management approach.
50 percentsluices are under WMO’s control through the introduction of small infrastructures.
Limited consultation of WMOs in planning, construction supervision by Water Management Association (WMA).
Around 40-60%of Water Management groups from Completed Participatory Water Management (PWM) projects perform poorly or very poorly, are dormant or inactive.
Cost-sharing for main infrastructure not explored.
Capacity building is only through short-duration projects.
Only 9% of Water Management Groups (WMGs) reported ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ water management conditions compared to 59 percent prior to the Blue gold program.
Water management infrastructures have been improved in 86% WMG areas.
Benefits of embankments extend beyond WMOs, representing 60% of the beneficiaries.
Improvement in infrastructure was derived by re-excavation of khals by 80% WMGs and khal cleaning, sluice repairs, new /repaired culverts, better sluice operation and repaired embankments by 30-50% WMGs.
Water Management Officers in Patuakhali were interviewed to understand the current state of sluice control. The research found that sluice control in the area is around 25%. Some sustainability issues of the PWM approach represent an alarming situations. WMG’s admitted that they need to take more responsibilities for the improvement of water management. There is a lack of financial resources of WMG’s yet members are reluctant to provide voluntary work. WMG’s often realized the only way to achieve a successful outcome is the continuity of BGP.
Expansion of land use for boro rice crops, especially hybrids, were significant in the Blue Gold research. The increase yield of rice paddy, aquaculture and watermelon farming in some polders were significant.
Improved water management had increased the cropping intensity. Cropping intensity has increased with “Gher” around 41% than before. Significant changes have been followed in crop pattern after BGP participation. Net farming incomes have changed. Before BGP, land under Aman was almost the same while Gher was less than half. After BGP, Aman land remains the same but Gher area has doubled.
Some improvement options that can be addressed from the Blue Gold program for long term impacts are; Union Parishad forming Community-Based Organizations; assigning polder tax; better linkage of local water management to national water governance; Vegetable cultivation on the dyke of Gher; irrigation of non-rice crops eg watermelon, vegetable, fruit on higher ground could be more supported (more profitable than Gher); less emphasis given on mung bean and sesame.
The program also identified that women are participating more than men, due to their participation women labour market has changed simultaneously. Blue Gold is helping WMOs for Water movement in Patuakhali. Culverts are being built up because cultivation needs more water. Around 70% people in Patuakhali, now work under WMGs collaboration with Blue Gold. Blue Gold has provided them with fish cultivation training, good quality seeds to grow mung bean crops, duck- chicken rearing, school field facilities. People now cultivate vegetables along the khals and they sell those products collaboratively in the market to get at a high profit.
Beneficiary of the program had sold around 260 maund paddy through collective marketing in December 2019. They gained knowledge about high and low land, where to create khals, culverts, etc through training sessions provided by WMA. WMG’s make an annual map on each phase of their activities for proper water management. River erosion in catchment area is a big issue in Patuakhali to work on.
The investment Blue Gold program got, is expected to return quickly for Water Management as per as the progress on integrated water management programs. Blue Gold has initiated some steps toward how the water management committee can work together. WMGs and WMAs need to rethink to be effective for the main infrastructure. Need huge investment and good intervention in place. Effective water management organization needs elections, 12-member executive committee, monthly meetings, resolution books, maintenance fund, account keeping, audits, annual general meeting in polder water management.
Most importantly, government plays a role in controlling the effectiveness of the actions mentioned. The action should be started by forming an ad hoc polder-level Water Management Association. For developing a functional Water Management Association more attention should be given on strong networks with Union Parishads and other local actors.
Sadia Afrin is an intern at ICCCAD; Research Assistant on Brown University dissertation project; Post Graduate student studying Environmental Sciences at Jahangirnagar University.