Management of Land and Water Resources: Lessons Learned from Alborz Pilot Effort Supported by World Bank (2005-2013)
In 2005, the World Bank launched the project Alborz Integrated Land andWater Management, based on a loan of $120 million to the government of Iran. The purpose was to carry out a basin-wide pilot project in Mazandaran Province that demonstrated effective approaches to management of water and land resources. An important aspect of the project was to document lessons learned that could be applied in other areas of the country.
Objectives of the project were as follows.
- Sustain increases in agricultural productivity through improved irrigation and drainage systems, with particular attention to participatory management.
- Reduce soil erosion and sediment yields impacting on the Alborz dam, which was then under construction, through improved upper-watershed management.
- Protect the water environment downstream of the Babol River and other water bodies through improved hydrological/water quality monitoring of reservoir operations and through pest management.
The government had invested heavily in more than 100 dams, with complementary water distribution systems for both irrigation water and drinking water for urban areas. However, there were not adequate investments in these systems. Water management responsibilities had been decentralized with formation of separate water companies for various regions that
were responsible for developing their own irrigation infrastructures. Not surprisingly, operation and maintenance services were very uneven. Overall, despite these and other investments, the country faced rapid depletion of aquifers, the water quality in many regions was deteriorating, and growing urban settlements were demanding more water as previously noted. At the same time farmers were changing to production of higher-value crops, with greater demands for water.
In carrying out the pilot project against this background, the World Bank adopted three principles: (1) Land and water in a river basin should be managed holistically to protect the entire environment. (2) Integrated water resource management requires participation of all stakeholders. (3) Water is a scarce resource and should be managed as an economic good with appropriate incentives that improve allocation and enhance quality.
These principles had seldom been fully followed in Iran’s previous investments. For example, irrigation water pricing did not generate incentives for resource conservation. Water allocation did not meet any market tests. Pollution standards were largely ignored. Enforcement against unsustainable exploitation by loggers and herders was very weak.
Nevertheless, even with this background, the World Bank project succeeded in a number of ways. Most important, it generated the following lessons learned that were heard at the highest level of the Iranian government.
- Integrated and effective water resource management can promote coordination between many stakeholders but requires experienced and motivated staff within key government ministries and other important participating institutions.
- Land acquisition requirements must be identified in advance, and acquisition must be completed at the outset of the project.
- Irrigation and drainage projects need detailed designs and up-to-date project cost estimates when the project begins.
- A strong government agency should carry out monitoring and evaluation activities that are keys to success.
- Financial and economic analyses deserve prominent places during all stages of the project.
- Direct involvement of the potential beneficiaries of the project during the planning and implementation creates an important sense of ownership among farmers and other consumers of water.
The World Bank’s summary assessment of this pilot project is as follows: “The economic rate of return has shown that the investment, despite all of the implementation problems, has been a good investment for the government and for the people.”
Source: The World Bank, “Implementation Completion and Results Report (IBRD-47820), Alborz Integrated Land and Water Project,” Management Report Number ICR 2589, April 25, 2013.
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