The Asian and Pacific region has agriculture based economies which are dependent on the sustainability of irrigation water supply. The irrigation water use of countries in the region is approximately 80 per cent of the overall water use. The sustained development of countries in the region is, therefore, heavily dependent on the availability of adequate irrigation water supply. This has to be achieved through the conservation and efficient utilization of existing limited water resources to meet the demand of steadily expanding irrigated agriculture.
In most irrigated lands of the ESCAP region, there has not been much effort to reduce wastage of irrigation water through pricing mechanisms. Some countries of the region have only recently attempted to collect water fees for irrigation. Very few countries have managed to recover the investment costs of irrigation projects fully, while some could recover part of the investment costs, and others could recover only operation and maintenance costs, either fully or partly.
In most irrigation schemes the overall irrigation efficiency is of the order of 30 to 40 per cent due to improper maintenance of conveyance and distribution systems and incorrect water application practices in the fields. If properly set and implemented, water pricing for agricultural water could significantly reduce the wastage of resources. Moreover, if the overall demand could be reduced in the irrigation sector through better utilization of the water with the saved water, a much larger area could be irrigated and surplus water could be made available for other users.
While all the countries in the region have recognized the need and importance of charging appropriate fees for irrigation water supply, the creation and implementation of policies on irrigation water pricing are facing some problems. In most cases, the willingness and affordability of farmers to pay water charges are found to be very low as they have been receiving irrigation water free of charge. Moreover, national priorities to achieve self-sufficiency of food grains and stable food prices are influencing the political will of many governments in fixing realistic irrigation water prices reflecting their true value. Therefore, greater efforts need to be taregted towards creating farmers' awareness and acceptance of the need to pay for irrigation water if they wish to receive the services on a sustained basis. At the same time, high-level national policy makers should be made aware of the importance of pricing policies as mechanisms for sustainable development and management of their valuable and finite water resources.