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MARVI: A promising participatory framework for sustainable groundwater management in Southeast Asia

With the changing climate and increasing pressure on water resources, groundwater is becoming a critical resource in Southeast Asia, and it is vital to meet the water needs for drinking, agriculture, and livelihoods. However, the region faces significant challenges in managing this precious resource, including over-extraction, pollution, and the impacts of climate extremes. A recent scoping study, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian Water Partnership (AWP), and led by Western Sydney University, has shed light on a promising solution: the MARVI (Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention) framework.

Developed and successfully implemented in India, MARVI (www.marvi.org.in) is a participatory framework that empowers local communities to take ownership of managing and sustaining groundwater resources. It involves community members participating in collaborative local data collection by monitoring groundwater levels, rainfall and water quality. This allows members to understand groundwater resources better while promoting local decision making. MARVI encourages intersectoral collaboration, including government agencies and policymakers, to implement sustainable groundwater management and take actions on the ground to recharge, share and sustain groundwater.

Workshop participants at Lao PDR. Credit: Western Sydney University

The study, conducted in Lao PDR, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste, revealed that MARVI could be a valuable tool for addressing the unique groundwater challenges faced by each country. While Lao PDR and Timor-Leste suffer from challenges related to limited data, management capacity, and technical expertise, Indonesia is more concerned about groundwater over-extraction and pollution. MARVI can help address these challenges by providing training and support to communities for data collection and analysis, building local decision-making capacity and promoting sustainable water use practices. The study also highlighted concerns about the impact of land concessions on groundwater resources in Lao PDR, emphasising the need for better monitoring and management in these areas. Vulnerability to climate change impacts calls for more proactive groundwater management in Timor-Leste and improved coordination between government agencies in Indonesia.

Workshop participants engaged in group work in Timor-Leste. Credit: Western Sydney University

The scoping study recommends piloting MARVI in select locations in each country, with adaptations to suit the local context. Key recommendations include investing in local capacity building for community members and government officials and greater international collaboration on groundwater management. Robust monitoring and evaluation systems must be developed to track progress and ensure accountability. It is also crucial to incorporate gender equality and social inclusion throughout MARVI implementation. Integrating MARVI with existing government initiatives is integral to sustainable groundwater management in the region. Overall, the study highlighted the potential of the MARVI framework to address the diverse groundwater challenges faced by Southeast Asian countries. By empowering communities, promoting sustainable practices, and fostering collaboration, MARVI can contribute to a more water and food-secure future for the region.


Featured image: Workshop participants in Indonesia on day 1 discussing the integration of the MARVI approach with local initiatives. Credit: Western Sydney University

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