Economics and Politics of Water Resources Development: Uda Walawe Irrigation Project, Sri Lanka

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"This report examines the history of water resources development and investment decisions for the Uda Walawe Irrigation and Resettlement Project (UWIRP), located in the southern dry zone of Sri Lanka. The project was initiated in the early 1950s just after Sri Lanka gained independence. UWIRP was part of Sri Lankas new postcolonial vision for economic development and modernization; a vision that was supported by multilateral and bilateral funding agencies because irrigation was seen as an engine for growth in the 1950s and onward. The original plan for UWIRP is most aptly described as a highly ambitious social, economic and physical engineering project aimed at creating a modern and profitable agriculture sector. This plan envisioned bringing 32,780 hectares (81,000 acres) of arid land into highly efficient agricultural production by constructing a reservoir and irrigation facilities, and moving landless farmers to the newly developed lands. "The report seeks to understand the decisionmaking processes of various interventions over the years and the outcomes of these decisions. The analysis includes the identification of the various decisions that have influenced the projects evolution, the rationale behind these decisions, and how these decisions were implemented. It shows, in particular, the interplay between how projects are perceived, planned, implemented and managed by various actors (donors, government, implementing agencies and consultants), all characterized by their respective strategic interests and accountability. Particular attention is given to the gap between planners vision and reality on the ground, and to the ability of implementers to effectively bridge this gap. "Overall, this research illustrates the difficulties of assessing not only project performance but also project outcomes; the outcomes of a project are governed by the evolution of the behavior and choices of the different actors concerned, in which their interests, mindsets and strategies are embedded. It uncovers underlying processes that shaped the evolution of the project and highlights the limitation of viewing development as a mere set of technical and social engineering endeavors."
water resources, irrigation, river basins, poverty, crops, political behavior, cost benefit analysis, fisheries