Point of view
Beware of pseudo water professionals
Prof. Ranjith Premalal de Silva
World Environment day was celebrated last week with wide publicity.
Serious discussions surfaced as to whether our approach was for mere
celebrations in commemorating a global day or to help society and the
nation to add value in nature conservation or in improving natural
resource use efficiency without harming the environment.
Water being one of the most important natural resources related to
environment, needs to be managed properly for the present use and be
protected for the future generations. Among the water sector
institutions, National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) is the
key main player related to domestic water use. It should be acknowledged
that the quality of water supplied by the NWS&DB is well above the
accepted standards for drinking water.
The reliability of the service and the maintenance of networks and
metering devices are also commendable. However, it is doubtful whether
the NWS&DB has a vision for water resources conservation and getting
public awareness and participation for such national endeavours. NWS&DB
should sponsor programs for watershed conservation, pollution
prevention, water use efficiency improvement and safe water disposal
mechanisms and should solicit public interest in conserving water
NWS&DB has failed to take effective measures to reduce the
non-revenue water which exceeds 40 percent on average. To recover the
cost of the operations and maintenance including the waste of 40
percent, NWS&DB conveniently puts the burden on consumers who use the
remaining 60 percent of water.
High salaries are paid for the top management of NWS&DB from the
collected revenue from consumers to manage the services efficiently and
the public should instigate action to make these high wage earners to be
responsible for public funds. In addition, NWS&DB should not limit its
services only to introduce a water sanitation policy but should also
take the initiative to invest for implementing proper water hygiene,
health and sanitation practices in our society.
Large scale sanitation projects are initiated and recommended by the
NWS&DB in view of the benefits that can be derived from these large
scale activities. A considerable amount of resources has been dedicated
to promote sanitation awareness in society, rather than wasting
resources on ineffective publicity programs.
This can be introduced to the primary schoolchildren with very little
cost. As a responsible State sector entity, the NWS&DB should work with
a prudent vision to develop the water sector rather than limiting its
scope to a profit oriented business ventures.
Running an NGO in the water sector is a very profitable business
since the international funding for water sector organisations are in
abundance. Some NGOs are flooded with funds to initiate their action
plans to advise the government to introduce water pricing and use
economic instruments to manage water. On top of the range of star hotels
are the venues for discussions/ workshops to develop strategies for
advocating how the poor subsistence farmers can be taxed for the
irrigation water under the guise of water conservation. The same group
employs another agency under cover to launch a poster campaign in the
city against such workshops claiming that the agenda at these workshops
are a conspiracy to sell public owned water to the public.
These efforts are complemented by innocent socialist activist groups
who do not understand the hidden agenda behind such efforts. There are a
number of national and international organisations involved in the water
sector, which anticipate crisis in water management, promote conflicts
in water uses and users, and deliver programs posing a grave danger not
only to the water security but also to the coexistence of our society
and the nation. It is timely that we look at the agenda of these actors
very closely to prevent them turning our water sector into a disaster.
In the recent past, discussions were facilitated based on one
individual's own research output to prove that paddy farming is not
profitable and farmers must opt for other cash crops to sustain farm
income. This effort is to prevent us having our staple food produced and
consumed in the country. Recent genuine advocacy efforts on the quality
of our rice due to contamination by water polluted with pesticide
residues can also be manipulated by interested parties to campaign
against the consumption of rice.
All these avenues create an environment to display the conflicts and
chaos in the water sector and then highlight the need of their presence
to resolve the burning issues which are shown to be beyond the control
of the Government. Concepts of virtual water imports and exports are
often misinterpreted to ascertain the need for diversified agriculture
deviating from paddy farming.
During the previous regimes, the NGO battalions were very powerful in
the political arena also due to their lavish spending on the corrupt
politicians and often got commended for their services in the water
sector. However, with the prudent policies of the "Mahinda Chintana"
identify the approaches and framework for water management.
A number of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is associated with
bogus water professionals in exploiting research grants and aid packages
from international donor agencies. Further, because of the global
accreditation of these agencies due to the adherence to the neo-colonial
agenda, local political patronage and specific involvements in
trans-boundary issues at regional level, invitations for participation
at international fora are always extended to these individuals and
global funding resources are generally reserved for these individuals.
A summer holiday in Sweden every year during the Stockholm world
water week is mandatory in their personal calendar in the guise of
presenting our water sector problems to the international stakeholders.
However, both these NGO and INGO groups have no justifiable claim to
share the sentiments of the water environment today since they have
never instigated a true dialogue with the local stakeholders in the
Development of a water policy for the country is another area where
these NGOs show their dominance. Efforts for introducing a viable policy
framework for the country were hampered by the activities of these NGO
groups or bogus water professionals sponsored by these groups. In place
of a comprehensive national water policy for the country they managed to
flabbergast the water sector with a number of fragmented policy outlines
such as drinking water policy, water sanitation policy, rain water
harvesting policy, water resources policy where each policy contradicts
the others to play havoc in the legislature.
Gender issues in the water sector are other hot themes where several
NGOs claim their stake in supporting society for gender equality. In our
society, we do not find serious problems unique to women. Some NGOs
fraudulently claim to be devoted to gender equity in the water sector
and highlight the isolated incidents in the rural society and receive
remittances from foreign donors for their activities which in fact
create social problems and become a menace to the values and norms of
the rural society. In water education too, the role of gender has been
over-emphasized on many occasions and special funding provisions are
made available to females for water studies.
Climate change research is also a very attractive research zone for
pseudo water professionals. The importance of climate change in
sustainable agriculture production for food security has been a
prioritised theme for funding. In combatting problems created due to
change in climate, it is of utmost importance to understand the true
status of climate change with respect to observed changes in the climate
in Sri Lanka. It has been a common observation that most of the local
climate change research makes an attempt to prove the hypotheses of
global climate change trends through a variety of methodological
Some of the research studies are the efforts of downscaling global
climate change and general circulation models to represent Sri Lanka
ignoring the impact of local and regional phenomenon on our climate.
In most of these models, the diversity of climate within the country
is summarised into a few categories to represent only a few zones for
the entire country. The strength that the diversity of climate inherits
is often ignored in interpreting the results of these downscaled
Precipitation is highly variable in time and geographic location and
the prediction of this critical variable by global models tends to be
inadequate for use in evaluating the national consequences of
precipitation changes on water resources. Different modelling approaches
provide considerable variability in the results which cannot be combined
to derive any meaningful predictions for the future, while the cost
amounts to a colossal sum spent by the researchers.
In addition, evidence for the analysis of climatological time series
and forecasting for long term futuristic climate status through
extension of records of a very short period is commonly experienced in
evaluating our local climate change studies. Time series expansion is a
commonly used approach where attempts are made to evaluate some vital
parameters from a limited data series to make a forecast for a totally
different period in future.
The NGO sector has taken an unprecedented upper hand in dealings in
the water sector due to the poor coordination of State actors
responsible for the water sector in the country. There are a large
number of State organisations operating with mandated activities in the
These include the Water Supply and Drainage Board, Water Resources
Board, Irrigation Department, Mahaweli Development Authority, Department
of Agriculture, Central Environmental Authority, Coast Conservation
Department, Urban Development Authority, Agrarian Development Authority
and Meteorological Department. However, most of these institutions work
in isolation and there is no national plan implemented to organise
coordinated activities among these institutions aiming at overall
improvement in the water sector.
"Mahinda Chintana" Vision for the Future provides a sustainable
platform understanding the historical perspectives, ground realities and
future trends and scope to launch the much needed national coordination
efforts for the water sector. It is the responsibility of the water
sector professionals to launch such a comprehensive coordination network
for the water sector of the country.
The writer is Professor of Agricultural Engineering, University of
Peradeniya and Former Director of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian
Research and Training Institute.
The writer is attached to the University of Peradeniya.