Author(s): Vibeke Bjornlund & Henning Bjornlund
Irrigation has been practised for some 6,000 or 7,000 years in various parts of the
When sedentary farming emerged in areas along or near major rivers in
the Fertile Crescent, the Indus Valley and China, irrigation soon followed to sustain
food production through dry periods.
Many of the areas suitable for irrigation
were also prone to fl ooding and therefore canals and other structures were needed
to supply water for irrigation and to provide drainage during fl oods.
were well beyond individual farmers and more complex societies therefore
The term sustainability was not known to these fi rst irrigators.
experimented, observed, learned, changed and adapted to their physical environment
and changing climate.
In some instances, the physical conditions were not
suitable for intensive irrigation practices.
Hence, for a number of reasons such
as salinization, siltation, soil erosion and deforestation some hydraulic societies
ceased to exist, while in other instances irrigation continued for millennia until
irrigation intensifi ed due to increased population pressure, resulting in changing
technologies and practices.
In other instances, irrigation has continued in the
same location until today.
This chapter explores these experiences from around
the world and try to draw lessons for today’s irrigation communities.
We fi nd that
decentralizing is better than centralizing, diversity is better than uniformity and
local self-ingenuity and self-reliance yield superior results.
If exogenous technologies
or knowledge are applied, it should be in conjunction with, and adapted
to, local conditions, knowledge and cultures.
Bali; Egypt; India; Mesopotamia; Oman; Sustainable irrigation
The concept of sustainable development gained prominence in 1987 with the
Brundtland Report Our Common Future (WCED, 1987) that refers to sustainable
development as development that meets the needs of the present without
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Paper DOI: 10.2495/978-1-84564-406-2/02
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