Irrigation Assistance to Developing Countries Should Require Stronger Commitments to Operation and Maintenance

NSIAD-83-31: Published: Aug 29, 1983. Publicly Released: Aug 29, 1983.

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GAO reviewed the operation and maintenance (O&M) of U.S.-financed irrigation systems in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand to determine how the Agency for International Development (AID) can: (1) improve operation and maintenance practices of developing countries and extend the economic life of the irrigation systems; and (2) design irrigation systems that adequately consider O&M requirements.

GAO found that donors have demonstrated their concern with developing country food problems by investing in irrigation systems and other facilities. At the same time, they have not given sufficient attention to the complementary institutional and financial costs of operating and maintaining the facilities. Donors have assumed that recipient countries would provide recurrent budget support to effectively operate and maintain projects, but this has not happened. AID has prepared a policy on recurrent cost financing, but the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have not. GAO believes that institutional as well as financial weaknesses affect the recipient countries' ability to effectively use and maintain irrigation systems, and found that many systems do not provide reliable water sources and have not become self-sustaining. GAO found that AID project designs have assumed that water user associations would be established to provide on-farm maintenance, ensure equitable water distribution, and maintain discipline among users. Generally, these assumptions have not been realized. Consequently, systems have been vandalized, water wasted or stolen, and routine maintenance ignored.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AID stated that appropriate provisions would be made in future projects. A letter of guidance had been sent to Asian missions. Follow-on actions included: (1) an Asian Bureau recurrent costs study to identify more workable and self-sustaining O&M programs; and (2) an AID/FAO international conference to bring together national irrigration policymakers to discuss improved O&M for Asia and Africa.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, AID, should: (1) as an integral part of project planning and as a condition for project approval, require that recurrent cost plans be developed in conjunction with recipient governments and other donors to recognize the principle of cost recovery from all beneficiaries; (2) project the annual life-of-system O&M costs; (3) identify the source of O&M funds and the funding options available to the country and the donors; (4) include specific plans to strengthen each recipient country's capability to budget for O&M funding and to account for O&M expenditures on a project basis; (5) institutionalize management monitoring and evaluation of plan implementation; and (6) encourage other donors to define their recurrent cost financing options. In addition, the Administrator should encourage the multilateral development banks to further define their recurrent cost financing options as they relate to future financing of irrigation project development.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AID stated that it would explore, with missions, building a component into ongoing or new projects. Follow-on actions included: (1) the Small Scale Irrigation project in Indonesia to improve O&M performance; and (2) the Irrigation Systems Management project in Sri Lanka to develop an institutional capacity for irrigation management, with full participation of Sri Lankan farmers.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, AID, should adopt stronger design and construction criteria for improving O&M performance as standard prerequisites of approval for new irrigation and rehabilitation projects. The criteria should include: (1) quality assurance measures in design and construction to ensure that local engineers and contractors take heed of technical advisors and require site visits during the design process; (2) the involvement of farmers in the planning, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation process; (3) priority consideration of O&M requirements during project design; and (4) appropriate transition between construction and O&M.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AID will not approve projects requiring effective farmer participation unless its is evident that viable and effective water user associations exist or will be established. Associations will be formed as an integral part of the planning, design, and construction process. Emphasis will be placed on helping host goverments develop the means to organize farmers effectively.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, AID, should require from the host governments, before the construction of irrigation systems begin written certifications that: (1) active, viable water user associations have been established; (2) designers have met with association members, discussed their needs and system benefits, elicited their input into on-farm system design, and stressed that the on-farm system will be theirs and that they must operate and maintain it; (3) each association has submitted a written request for the system and has agreed to the on-farm O&M; and (4) local users, to the extent possible, will be used to help construct the on-farm portions of each project.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development


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