The poor living in irrigated areas are at great risk because of the growing scarcity and competition for water, and the overexploitation of groundwater resources. In addressing the poverty problem, the impact of reduced water availability for irrigation must be considered, not only on crop production, but also on the wide range of other uses that are a part of the livelihood of rural agricultural communities.
There are two regions of the world that stand out in terms of the scope and magnitude of rural poverty—South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They could not be more contrasting in terms of water resources and irrigation development and hence the challenge posed to International Water Management Institute (IWMI) scientists and others for poverty alleviation. In South Asia close to fifty percent of the cereal grain area is irrigated. Two-thirds of cereal grain production and most of the marketed surplus comes from the irrigated areas. On the contrary, in sub-Saharan Africa the contribution of irrigation to cereal grain production is about 5 percent.
This paper discusses the implications for poverty alleviation of growing water scarcity with particular reference to South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. First, it summarizes the impact of irrigation development on poverty alleviation in South Asia in the recent past. Emphasis is placed on the role that advances in irrigation technologies and private development of groundwater resources have played in providing the poor with access to water. Then in an environment of growing water scarcity, it examines the challenges that lie ahead for the development of water resources leading to sustained poverty alleviation.