Rural Development – Access to Water in Rural Areas

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD, one third of the population experiences physical or economic water scarcity. This problem is especially harsh in the sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia. In the continuous competition among different sectors (households, agriculture, industries, energetic) for water, the most affected are the rural populations.

Providing water for agricultural productivity and domestic uses is critical for achieving food security and improved rural livelihoods. Access to water is also deeply linked to poverty, health, nutrition and land distribution. In general, water is basic for achieving progress in rural regions.

There are several difficulties related to water access that should become governmental priorities.  Structural problems such as poor infrastructure, fair tariff water systems and water quality part of the problem. Among the problems that can be addressed by local authorities and communities are: inefficient irrigation systems, lack of water storage, water wastage and pollution and lack of education on proper water management.

How to provide access to water in a sustainable way?

One of the strategies that can help solve this problem is infrastructure improvement. Among infrastructure projects that can be carried out by the government or private companies are building reservoirs and rainwater harvesting tanks. Irrigation systems are basic for improving efficiency. For example converting them into multiuse water service systems can help improve water use. Investment on infrastructure provides employment and therefore a better quality of life. It is directly linked to research and development of new agriculture and water management technologies.

Providing a fair tariff system can be another possible solutions to guarantee equity in water distribution. Regional studies should be carried out to determine how water is distributed among economic levels and new prices should be established so that everyone has access. Governments should even study the possibility of providing subsidies to the lowest income communities.

Access to information and community participation are also crucial aspects. Involvement of communities ensures having a real picture of how water is used and guarantees that people participate in new programs. Populations should be aware of all the activities, improvements and policies. Empowering communities with microcredits with appropriate monitoring measures can be a good alternative to promote change. Since 2/3 of the communities that suffer water scarcity are women, they are a key part of the solution. Women are main actors for agriculture, domestic hygiene and industry. If governments establish legislation that allows women to own land a sense of ownership and a better water management can be created. Participation of women in decision-making processes might be helpful because they can help to identify current problems and possible solutions.

Improving water efficiency is one of the most important challenges, which implies water productivity in agriculture and creating a water saving culture. Prioritizing the use of water by reallocating water from lower-value, to higher-value uses can constitute an option. This must be done with education and in a way that nobody looses. If taxes for water waste are imposed to companies, awareness and efficiency can significantly increase.

Finally, training and education are basic to achieve water access. Courses regarding to water management, crop switching, water wastage and recycling, organic fertilizers and preventing water contamination should be implemented. Community coordination, incentives and constant monitoring are success measures that should be considered.

In order to enhance agricultural productiveness and if we want to achieve the goal of producing 2 times more food by 2030, water access must improve. No strategy would be successful without a regulatory framework for sustainable and equitable water distribution and management. A safe water system requires competitive institutions that provide, administer, educate and monitor the appropriate use of water in rural areas, and, without education and community involvement no significant changes can be expected.

Successful water access programs
Wetlands and Poverty Reduction Project – IWMI, Wetlands International. Awareness & Capacity Building. Villagers improved food security during dry months and nutrition as a result greater variety of crops.

Commune agro-ecosystems analysis Cambodia – Participatory approach designed to help communities improve decision-making. Significantly improved fisheries productiveness.

Farmer associations to address the needs urban producers Sri Lanka – Farmer field schools – Internal Loans – Social security schemes – documentation for water management.

Water storage India – WMI researchers and partners have been experimenting different combinations of ponds and tanks so that farmers can store and manage water to maximize benefits. Incomes have increased by 20%.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Nepal – project to improve nutrition among women through increased access to irrigation water.



Gender and Water. Securing water for improved rural livelihoods: The multiple-uses system approach. December 2007. IFAD. More information:

Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Initiative. African Developing bank Group. More information:

South Africa: Lack of Water Access Undermining Rural Development. AllAfrica,  June 8, 2011. More information:

Water for a Food-Secure World. International Water Management Institute. Annual Report 2010. More information:


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