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Civic Habitus and the Challenges of Depoliticized Participatory Irrigation Management Reforms: Insights from Pakistan
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  • Muhammad Arfan,
  • Mercedes Ward,
  • Muhammad Ali,
  • Asmat Ullah,
  • Kamran Ansari
Muhammad Arfan
Mehran University of Engineering and Technology

Corresponding Author:mapiish37@gmail.com

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Mercedes Ward
The U Water Center (current: Office of the Vice President for Research), University of Utah
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Muhammad Ali
Mehran University of Enginnering & Technology
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Asmat Ullah
Mehran University of Engineering and Technology
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Kamran Ansari
Mehran University of Engineering and Technology
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In 1980, the World Bank began to promote Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) reforms to overcome disparities in the distribution of public irrigation water for agricultural uses. Yet, in Pakistan as in other countries, PIM was unable to achieve its objectives of equitable resource distribution and financial sustainability. This paper examines how the neoliberal understanding of citizens’ participation/participatory development as demonstrated in PIM fails because its underlying theory of change overlooks power asymmetry issues, institutional politics, and farmers’ engagement processes. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data collected through structured and semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, and participant observation in Pakistan’s agrarian heartlands of Punjab and Sindh, we argue that traditional irrigation bureaucracy, donor agency technocrats, and depoliticized participatory development approach intentionally or unintentionally ignore the muted voices of small and landless peasants in the reform process. Under such circumstances, reform cannot generate hydro-solidarity, trust, and collective action from below. Moreover, the irrigation bureaucracy only mimics the institutions of participation under an externally assisted push because the PIM model was never adequately tested and implemented. We argue that without active farmers’ agency—small and landless peasants, these paper organizations cannot create multi-level accountability in irrigation management. We elucidate an important but under-theorized factor contributing to these failures: depoliticized irrigation management transfer processes that fail to redistribute social power. Donor articulations of the PIM “theory of change” do not make explicit that a shift in social power – not just management authority and responsibility – is necessary.
17 Mar 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
26 Mar 2023Published in ESS Open Archive