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FAO ICARDA and ICRC share lessons learned on the impact of irrigation on social cohesion

01/10/2021

“Rural development is a powerful counter to conflict and insecurity; in a country like Syria, irrigation is at the heart of rural development, and so, closely related to peace and stability.” This was the opening statement given by FAO Syria’s Representative, Mike Robson, during the FAO Zoominar that took place on the International Day of Peace and was hosted along with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Attended by more than sixty participants from the United Nations and the international community, as well as local stakeholders, the Zoominar was an opportunity to highlight the impact of irrigation on building an equitable and sustainable world

In his presentation, Robson focused on three major lessons learned from FAO’s field programme over the past three years that related to equitable access to irrigation water and how to ensure the sustainability of the management of irrigation systems.

First, in all cases where FAO restores irrigation facilities damaged in the conflict, a study is conducted to establish the sustainability of water use for agriculture at the site. Second, where land has been abandoned for lack of water, farmers quickly return once it is restored – this can create issues on rights and ownership, which need to be addressed. Finally, the key to social cohesion relating to the use of natural resources such as water, is local involvement in the management (planning, operation and maintenance) of irrigation facilities, through Water User Associations.  Such associations require training and support to become functional, but they have proved their value over time. Creating water user associations relating to FAO project activities has not only prevented problems from occurring, but in some cases has also resolved long standing local disputes regarding allocation of water between farmers, even dating back to before the conflict.

FAO’s Senior Land and Water Officer at Near East and North Africa Regional Office, Mohammed Al Hamdi, emphasized these lessons, stating that in other countries of the region Water User Associations are a driving force that lead to improved equity and livelihoods for the communities involved. They also contribute to the prevention waste of scarce water resources

“We all agree that agriculture and irrigation contribute to communities’ stability and recovery, especially in rural areas. In order to enhance the local community’s role for effective use of water it is important to realize the opportunities we may have by analyzing the current multi-sectoral factors’ and methods to improve the country’s water management systems and the relevant institutions,” said Al Hamdi.

ICARDA, represented by Vinay Nangia (Research Team Leader - Soil, Water and Agronomy), highlighted the importance of innovative technologies relating to water use, which can themselves become an important factor for social cohesion. ICRC’s Water and Habitat delegate, Miriam Mumbi Waweru, presented their experience in restoration of irrigation systems and stressed the importance of restoring access to irrigation in order to promote return of rural communities.