- Notes from the Field
In their article on "The Transfer of Governance Technology: The Case of Water User Associations in Uzbekistan," Pierce et al. (2006) examine the role of local and regional Water User Associations (WUAs), which are designed to provide a formal mechanism to give local voice to national and regional water policy issues in the technology transfer process. They state that because the local WUAs are the vehicle for resource allocations and that the reform by the Uzbek government devolved authority to the local WUAs, occupational and general trust levels are higher and, therefore, success in technology transfer is more assured.
This article presents an accurate, if optimistic, view of the role of WUAs in the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, each nation in Central Asia undertook its own agricultural, land, and water reforms to subdivide large agricultural farms into smaller, farmer-owned and -managed units. Previously, interfarm and major irrigation and drainage systems served big collective farms, which were entirely designed to suit large-scale farming. After independence, the water management systems of all Central Asian states remained the same as they were in Soviet times. Because management did not change, the few policy changes that did occur were economic in character and uneven in country applications. For example, charging water users to cover the part of the operation and maintenance costs resulted in a decline of state support for the irrigation sector, especially restructuring the I&D network at lower levels. To fill institutional gaps and create organizations that will look after the on-farm irrigation systems, Central Asian states, including Uzbekistan, launched a program of establishing WUAs along the boundaries of the former collective farms (Abdullaev et al., 2006).
In practice, these WUAs have had mixed results. They were organized along territorial rather than watershed boundaries. They are encountering legal, institutional, and technical problems that hinder effective water management at the on-farm level. In part, these WUA development problems are directly related to the transition from centrally planned development to a market economy. However, the bigger part of the problem is that [End Page 302] WUA decision-making groups misperceive the fundamental purpose of WUAs. The principles of egalitarian decision making, accountability, and water user participation were highlighted as important preconditions for successful water users associations in the Pierce article. Yet WUAs in Central Asia lack egalitarian decision making: water users are distanced from water allocation decisions, development decisions for their respective territories, and from irrigation service fee calculation methods, or they are not informed about irrigation service fee collection results. Existing WUAs also lack transparent reporting systems on finances, decisions made on operation and maintenance, and so on. The WUA councils that should represent water users are weak and in most cases nonoperational. The trust between WUA and water users is yet to be developed in all countries of the region. This is the major reason of failure for most of the WUAs organized so far.
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The next important precondition for the successful WUA, as indicated in the Pierce article, is water users' participation in WUA management matters. The top-down approach taken on WUA formation in Central Asia resulted in minimal water user involvement and buy-in during the initial phases of organizational building. This could be improved by the formation of the water users groups at the tertiary canals as an integral part of the WUA, which also will help to improve water users' participation. This idea has been successfully tested within the scope of the IWRM Ferghana project in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (International Water Management Institute, forthcoming).
For research and analytic purposes, it might also be helpful to divide WUAs in Central Asia into state-led, donor-led, and user-led types (Kazbekov et al., forthcoming). The performance of those types is presented in Table 1. Finally, understanding of WUA development in Central Asia [End Page 303] could be improved through academic and participatory research to highlight the major hindrances and solutions to overcome them. It is important that development...