Water Governance and Institutional Reform in Bangladesh

92% of Bangladesh’s all water resources are external, i.e. entering Bangladesh via trans-boundary waters, resulting in high dependency and uncertainty on future water availability. A large part of the country also suffers from salinity intrusion in water. Of the water that is available, over 90 percent is used for agriculture. Irrigation efficiency in Bangladesh is the lowest in South Asia. Industries such as textile, leather, beverage, chemical, forest products, food manufacturing, utilities, paper products, etc. altogether consume significant amounts of groundwater and create large volumes of polluted discharge.

Water governance issues started getting attention some twenty years ago and a great deal of research and studies were conducted by different government and development agencies since then. However, the recommendations for reforms that resulted from such initiatives failed to get implemented for various reasons, including lack of broad consensus, inter-ministerial-agency coordination and private sector representation. Water Governance in Bangladesh has been the responsibility of a multitude of government bodies who have been largely unsuccessful in coordinated action so far.

The National Water Resource Council (NWRC) is composed of mostly government ministries and agencies and headed by the Prime Minister. Water Resources Planning Organization (WARPO) which is the secretariat to the NWRC and its Executive Committee (ECNWRC) has not been adequately resourced to perform as a regulatory agency. The first serious action taken by the agency was development of the Bangladesh Water Act (BWA) which was passed in 2013.

Improving inter-agency coordination is vital for the successful attainment of water reforms. Equally, the private sector plays an integral role in working towards sustainable water management, as not only they are a main water user, they also have the financial resources to have a significant impact on improving the water resources situation.

Given the increasing pressure on water resources, Bangladesh has welcomed the support of 2030 WRG. The government has acknowledged the value proposition of 2030 WRG’s unique multi-stakeholder partnership (MSP) approach which has been endorsement by the highest level of government (The Prime Minister of Bangladesh) to address the water security issues. 2030 WRG would ensure equal representation of the public, private and civil society to steer further work on identified priority areas.

The 2030 WRG, in consultation with the MSP has already adopted multi-focal short to mid-term strategies to tackle initially the most pressing governance challenges. The Water Governance and Sustainability Work-Stream (WGS) under supervision of the National Steering Board (NSB) of the MSP and Chaired by the Senior Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources of the Bangladesh has established two Task Forces (TFs), one each for (a) Institutional Reform and, (b) Economic Incentives for Sustainable Water Management, comprising of experienced sector professionals and stakeholders.

The MSP includes active representation of the private sector and business associations. Recommendations have been taken from the existing study and research work done by various research institutions, academia, donor agencies, and NGOs on how to improve aspects of the regulatory environment. 2030WRG has managed to mobilize stakeholders to take action based on those recommendations. The private sector’s regular and active participation has been instrumental in prioritizing challenging reform agenda items in the multi-stakeholder consultation sessions and thereby bringing in real value to the process.

The WGS work-stream through the two TFs have already developed two Concept Notes, on ‘Strengthening of Institutional Framework’ and ‘Economic Incentives’ for Sustainable Water Management which have been approved by the NSB, and which will now be developed into detailed proposals. The TFs will begin by building and establishment of broad consensus on the nature of the problems faced by the water sector by reviewing and validating the reasons for past failures of previous reform attempts and how they might be overcome. The actionable reforms which the TFs are expected to recommend will be based on a variety of institutional scenarios. This approach to selection of final recommendations is expected to produce maximum impact with least possible disruption.

2030 WRG will continue to promote multi-sector synergies to establish efficient, coordinated and sustainable partnerships, to address the growing concerns behind the long history of failed institutional reform in Bangladesh.