Nine to thirteen million people, mostly the rural poor, depend on spate irrigation as their main resource system. In many semi-arid parts in the world water comes in short floods, or ‘spates’, lasting between a few hours to a few days. This water is diverted from the dry riverbeds and used for irrigation, rangeland improvement, local forestry and recharging groundwater. Due to climate change and degradation of watersheds more and more rivers stop delivering regular flows. Instead they become more erratic producing short duration floods. The floodwater also brings a large amount of sediment – some floods look like mudflows – adding more challenges to survival.
Guidelines on Spate Irrigation
DELFT, The Netherlands - The Spate Irrigation Network, Meta Meta, HR Wallingford, the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and the Food and Agriculture Organization today, launched a new publication entitled ‘Guidelines on Spate Irrigation’. These guidelines were the result of a ten-year period of documenting experiences and local practices in various countries.
The publication brings together ideas and practices on improving various aspects of spate irrigation: social organisation, engineering, water management, water rights, agronomy, economics and links with river management. Spate irrigation is very different from other water systems: there is a large uncertainty – whether and when floods will come and whether they are manageable and which area they will cover. This uncertainty makes the cooperation between farmers different and very unique.
Countries with large areas of spate irrigation include Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Sudan and North Africa, many of which have had a recent history of disturbance. Nevertheless, these flood based farming systems can be very productive too and have formed the basis for ancient civilisations, such as for the empire of the Queen of Sheba. It is needless to say that much needs to improve in people’s livelihoods and productivities in spate irrigation. But in many parts of the world, spate irrigation, though inherently linked to enormous risks, is the ‘only means available’ for survival.
Frank van Steenbergen
Mobile: +316-4499 5010
Details on the publication:
Frank van Steenbergen, Philip Lawrence, Abraham Mehari Haile, Maher Salman and Jean-Marc Faurès.
‘Guidelines for Spate Irrigation’, Irrigation and Drainage Paper 65. FAO 2010. ISBN 978-92-5-106608-09