Social Dimension of Water Resource Management in Sri Lanka – Part 1

D.Senevirathne Assistant General Manager (Sociology)   Policy and Planning Division   National Water Supply and Drainage Board
Assistant General Manager (Sociology)
Policy and Planning Division
National Water Supply and Drainage Board, Sri Lanka

by Delgollage Senevirathne, Assistant General Manager (Sociologist) at the National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB), Sri Lanka.

NWSDB is an RWSN Member Organisation. To find out more visit the RWSN main website.


Water in Sri Lanka, being an island, comes from precipitation and the average annual rainfall is 1900 mm that falls in two monsoon seasons. The total rainfall is equivalent to a volume of 120 billion cubic metres spread over the land surface which equates to 2400 cubic metres per capita at current population levels – which is expected to reduce to 1900 cubic metres at a population threshold expected to reach 23 million by 2025.  The high intensity rains drain through 103 river basins with catchments of varying sizes ranging from 9 sq. km. to 10,327 which is the largest Mahaweli river basin. Twenty river basins are covering wet zone of the country which carry about 50% of the annual surface runoff ( Sri Lanka Water Partnership).

Due to variation of spatial and temporal aspects of rainfall pattern, there are water shortages and flooding situations that are experienced in certain parts of the island in different times of the year.  These phenomena lead to disturbances in socio-economic lives of the water users, particularly in the light of diversions for large scale projects in irrigation, water supply and multi-purpose dams for hydro-power vs. irrigation uses, thus limiting the availability of water for the downstream users along the river system.  Some of the in-stream uses are maintenance of minimum flows to sustain the environment such as fauna and flora, groundwater, hydro power that does not consume water, basic social needs of the population etc.

The objective of this post is to enlighten the public on the value of water resources in socio-economic uses and the need to create awareness on the social dimension of water resources management.  As we know there is participatory management approach that is being promoted using a combination of community and public sector agency involvement in assets development and management in the water supply sub-sector while in the irrigation sub-sector it is applicable to operational phase.  It is the same principle that needs to be introduced to water resources management in river systems at river basin level, which is cutting across more than one province in majority cases.    Participatory management aspects have been so effectively practiced in community water supply projects that will require capital and maintenance cost contributions from the targeted users of piped water supply and their involvement in the project cycle.

Compared to irrigation sector development projects, in almost all cases, the entire cost of capital and maintenance aspects are met from the government funding sources. However, there are instances of maintenance of field canals that have become the responsibility of the Farmer Organizations.

Involving communities as social groups of different water uses to decide on the equitable water allocations among all water users from a common water resource base such as a river system will be the main emphasis of water resources management.   It is also important to get their responses for water shed management, demand management/ water conservation and groundwater management including water quality aspects.  Impact of marginalized groups of the population involving female family members on adequate provision of water to meet their basic needs would become important criteria in deciding on the effectiveness of social dimension of water management.

Several attempts have been made by the government to introduce integrated water resources management through national policy, institutional framework and regulatory mechanisms that have failed mainly due to objections and resistance from the Non –Government sector, against introduction of bulk water rights among group water schemes as part of water allocation among different sectoral uses/users.    However, these measures are practiced in many countries such as Australia, France, U.K., U.S.A, and many European countries, India, Malaysia and Vietnam etc. to protect the rights of the community to have access to water on an equitable basis.

This series of blog posts describe the awareness raising on water resources management issues and possible solutions, social responsibility to attain sustainability in water use, community rights, affects of groundwater extraction, gender friendly approach in water resources management with consequences of political, caste and religious discrimination in access to water and the impact on community of climate change and natural variability arising from floods and droughts.

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit to find out more

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