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When it comes to the management and maintenance of polders, communities living in the saline-affected areas of coastal Bangladesh face numerous conflicting interests. They must prioritize water use across different sectors (water for irrigation vs. water for shrimp cultivation, pond fisheries) or within the same sector (irrigation for boro crop vs. irrigation for upland crops) and also cope with prolonged periods of submergence and non-rainy days. They must also limit potential conflict between water users, as they endeavor to use water efficiently, without seriously compromising equity issues. With land and water salinity on the rise and the limited availability of fresh water, communities will face challenges in balancing competing demands. Issues of polder governance will become more pertinent than ever before.

The Ganges project on ‘Water governance and community-based management’ (G3) is working to improve water governance and management of coastal polders through research aimed at understanding what works, and what does not work when it comes to polder management. It is also examining how better governance outcomes can be achieved.

In its first phase 1, the project conducted a situation analysis in nine polders in order to develop a better understanding of the major users of water in the polders, and the comparative advantages and disadvantages of different governance mechanisms that are in place to manage polder-related conflicts. As the project progressed and its understanding of the governance situation in coastal Bangladesh evolved, it recognized the need to expand its research focus beyond polder communities in order to include other influential actors (local government institutions, implementing agencies, the Government of Bangladesh, donors). In its second phase, the project set out to assess how governance systems, institutional arrangements and community-based management can contribute to the creation of more resilient and productive polder systems. Maintenance of infrastructure was identified as the ‘Achilles heel’ of water management in the polders. In order to address the problem of deferred maintenance, the project explored options to improving the funding and incentives available to the local Water Management Organizations responsible for infrastructure maintenance. It also proposed solutions for more effective use of local government institutions’ social safety-net funds for maintenance.

In its final phase, the project is undertaking capacity building and experience-sharing activities with polder communities and local government institutions. The project has found that better governance in polders first requires improved and clarified policies to enable communities and other actors to establish clear sharing of their roles and responsibilities. Through its outreach activities, the project has succeeded in improving the understanding between different stakeholders on conflicts of interests, as well as their varying practices. By involving relevant government officials and elected representatives throughout the research process, the project has generated interest in its research results and opened channels of communication for information exchange and discussions regarding research conclusions and recommendations for next steps.

This project will conclude in December 2014. 


International Water Management Institute, Institute of Water Modelling, Bangladesh Agriculture University, Shushilan, Local Government Engineering Department, Bangladesh Water Development Board

Project Leader

Marie-Charlotte Buisson, m.buisson@cgiar.org