Managing irrigation water for drinking & domestic use

Developing country's efforts to supply drinking water to their rural communities have focused primarily on digging deep tube wells and installing hand-pumps to exploit groundwater, which is free from harmful bacteria and parasites. But in large areas of South Asia, the Middle East and East Africa, groundwater is not an option because of high arsenic, fluoride, iron, or salt levels. Here irrigation water is often the only water available for drinking, bathing, and washing.

Options for improving drinking water quality in areas where groundwater cannot be used have received very little attention. IWMI is trying to put this issue on the map by looking at the ways irrigation water can be made safer for human consumption.

IWMI is conducting a series of studies in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Morocco that examine the links between irrigation management, domestic use of irrigation water and human health. This research has highlighted the need to bridge the gap between the irrigation and drinking water supply sectors.

Currently, the potential for exploiting the health benefits of irrigation water is hindered by the lack of cooperation between drinking water providers and irrigation planners and managers. A more coordinated effort could improve water availability and quality. Especially if coupled with hygiene education, this could result in a significant improvement in community health.

Linkages between Irrigation and Drinking Water in Pakistan IWMI Working Paper 46. Available on-line in PDF format, 792KB - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader™.

Effect of Chlorination of Drinking-water on Water Quality and Childhood Diarrhoea in a Village in Pakistan. Available on-line in PDF format, 155KB - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader™.

Multiple Uses of Water v in Irrigated Areas: A Case Study From Sri Lanka. SWIM Paper 8. Available on-line in PDF format, 362KB - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader™.
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Abstracts available on Tropical Medicine & International Health Website

Links to Domestic transmission routes of pathogens: the problem of in-house contamination of drinking water during storage in developing countries
Peter Kjær Jensen, Jeroen H. J. Ensink, Gayathri Jayasinghe, Wim van der Hoek, Sandy Cairncross & Anders Dalsgaard

Irrigation water as a source of drinking water: is safe use possible?
Wim van der Hoek, Flemmming Konradsen, Jeroen H. J. Ensink, Muhammad Mudasser & Peter K. Jensen

  • Managing water as a basic human requirement, Sri Lanka
    valuating the impacts of different water management decisions on the quality and availability of water for drinking and domestic use. more information>>

  • Domestic water supply and sanitation in irrigated areas, Pakistan
    Maximizing potential health benefits to be gained from the availability of irrigation water for drinking and domestic use in areas with brackish groundwater conditions. More information>>

  • Water management for agricultural and domestic use, Morocco
    Documenting the benefits of managing water for both irrigation and domestic use and developing ways of minimizing concomitant health risks. More information>>

  • Multiple uses of irrigation water, Sri Lanka & Pakistan
    valuating the multiple nonagricultural uses and users of irrigation water. More information>>

WELL is an on-line information resource center promoting environmental health and well-being in developing and transitional countries. The WELL site offers access to technical briefs, reports and other publications as well as information on immediate technical assistance services—provided to British and Southern NGOs working in the water and sanitation sector in developing countries.

The site is a collaboration between Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with support from Department for International Development (DFID).

Click here for more on-line resources

last updated: 19 September 2003
Research in this area has now been integrated into the Wastewater sub-theme.

Links to on-line resources

Women washing clothes in an irrigation canal, Pakistan.

  Irrigation water as a safe source of drinking water: A case study from Pakistan

How important are nonagricultural uses of irrigation water for rural/agricultural development?

How can the needs of nonagricultural users of irrigation water be incorporated into the management and design of irrigation systems?

How can irrigation water be made safer for drinking, bathing and washing?

What is the impact of irrigation management on the availability of fresh groundwater?

What are the positive and negative health impacts of domestic use of irrigation water?

How can the health hazards of this practice—such as, exposure to the parasite which causes schistosomiasis (carried by water snails) when washing clothes or bathing in irrigation canals—be reduced?

In Pakistan irrigation water is diverted to community reservoirs, called diggis. The water is either hand carried or pumped through PVC pipes to households.

Irrigation water that seeps from unlined canals, reservoirs and fields often percolates through the soil layer to form shallow pockets of groundwater.

These provide a clean source of drinking water in areas where groundwater is otherwise not potable. This important indirect use is often not recognized by authorities responsible for irrigation planning.

Interventions designed to 'save' water, such as canal lining, can leave village wells high and dry.

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RESEARCH THEMES: Water for Agriculture - Smallholder Livelihoods Groundwater Policy & Institutions Health & Environment