The Mekong Region has a long tradition of run-of-river farmer-managed irrigation schemes, and even longer tradition of rain-fed agriculture. Large-scale schemes have been developed since the 19th century, and during the last 20 years many more are being promoted and planned by State agencies. On the whole much of this planning and construction takes place without public consultation and limited public access to information.
M-POWER’s studies show that irrigation has expanded and intensified across the Mekong countries; but irrigation systems have not lived up to their expectations. The differences between stated policies and actual practices are generally large, while policy changes have little impact; institutional reforms do not capture the complexity of basin-wide water management, the multiple functions of irrigation systems, and relationships between different levels of management. Participatory Irrigation Management & Development (PIMD) and Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) initiatives, furthermore, have made very modest progress; while there is significant underinvestment in operation and maintenance, poor management and weak preparation of water user groups remains pervasive.
The coming years will tell us whether the current opportunities to address the real challenges of poverty and food security of the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) have been used wisely. The risk remains that the large sectoral and private interests that benefit from massive capital investments will prevail over more carefully targeted investments in irrigation or agriculture, more decisive reform and a necessary focus on improving the performance of existing assets.