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Nature's Bounty or Scarce Commodity: Competition and Consensus Over Ground Water Use in Rural Bangladesh

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Sadeque, Syed Zahir
Conference: Voices from the Commons, the Sixth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Berkeley, CA
Conf. Date: June 5-8, 1996
Date: 1996
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2125
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
water resources
Abstract: "Bangladesh is a country synonymous with abundant water and floods. However, there is a distinct dry season, when temperatures are high, precipitation very low, demand for irrigation water high and surface water flow reduces considerably. The resultant impact lowers the ground water table and a seasonal crisis affects millions of people dependent upon hand pumps for drinking water. "This crisis has exacerbated in recent years as irrigation coverage has increased dramatically, further lowering the ground water level. As water has always been found in abundance, rules/norms for using this common resource has never been codified and people are confused confronting the emerging reality. The competition over the finite ground water resources between mechanically powered Deep Tube Wells (DTW) and manual handpumps for drinking water supply are forcing communities and authorities to think about instituting regulations over the use of ground water. Technocratic and regulatory approach favors a zoning and regulatory regime for ground water use, to minimize conflicts from an administrative control perspective. However, as conflicts are increasing, people and communities are beginning to develop local level controls and self-management of this critical common resource. "This paper explores the context of this emerging situation. Evidence is there that due to cultural and religious sanctions water is not denied to any one but exchanges do occur between parties. Often recipients of drinking water have to provide equal amount of surface water to the irrigation channel in order to receive DTW water. As more and more handpumps become inoperable due to the irrigation triggered draw-down, drinking water becomes subjugated to the interest of irrigated agriculture, and people are questioning the relentless use of the common property for the benefit of modern irrigated agriculture. The equity implications complicate the conflict further as rich landowners either own/control irrigation pumps (and therefore water during the dry period) and are major beneficiaries of irrigation. Therefore, the emerging informal rules over the harvest of the common resource is affected by existing power relations in the society. What remains to be analyzed is to what extent are the conflicts arising out of common property harvesting is supporting the development of informal rules and how that agreed consensus is equitable and sustainable as option compared to technocratic administrative controls."

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