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The organized participation of water users in the management of water resources is nothing new. Indeed, it is an ancient phenomenon, as institutions are known whose origins go back to the earliest civilizations. What is new, however, is the range and scope of authority and responsibilities of the late twentieth century’s water users’ organizations including, in particular, irrigation water users’ organizations.

Since the mid-1980s, driven largely by financial pressures, there has been an upsurge in efforts by governments around the world to transfer management of irrigation systems from government agencies to farmer organizations or other non-governmental entities. This has occurred both in more and less developed countries, and in countries with more and less liberalized economies. Whether the transfer includes all or part of management functions, full or only partial authority, an entire irrigation system (or tubewell command) or part only of a system, such as distributary canal commands, organizations of irrigation water users have been increasingly assuming a pivotal role in the relocation of responsibility and authority for irrigation management from government agencies to non-governmental organizations.

A robust regulatory framework for the corporate governance of water users’ organizations, and for resource management by them, is a fundamental ingredient to irrigation management transfer policies. The former will provide the configuration for healthy functioning of water users’ organizations, while the latter will concern itself with the way organizations obtain and manage the water and land resources they need to operate.

The present publication offers a comparative analysis of the contemporary legislation of a vast variety of countries, providing the needed regulatory framework for water users’ organizations to function and grow. In some ways, it follows on from an older publication of more limited geographical scope, styled “Irrigation Users’ Organizations in the Legislation and Administration of Certain Latin American Countries”, also published by FAO in the Legislative Studies series (No. 24, 1983). It also complements the FAO publication “Transfer of irrigation management services - Guidelines”, featuring in the Irrigation and Drainage series (No. 58, 1999).

This publication is a joint project of the Development Law Service and of the Water Resources Management and Development Service of FAO. It has been written by Mr S. Hodgson, working under a contract with the latter Service.

Lawrence Christy

Pasquale Steduto



Development Law Service

Water Resources, Development

Legal Office

and Management Service

Land and Water Development Division

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