BREAD Working Paper No. 537

Governing the Commons? Water and Power in Pakistan’s Indus Basin

Hanan G. Jacoby, Ghazala Mansuri


Surface irrigation is a common pool resource characterized by asymmetric appropriation opportunities across upstream and downstream water users. Large canal systems are also predominantly state-managed. We study water allocation under an irrigation bureaucracy subject to corruption and rent-seeking. Data on the landholdings and political influence of nearly a quarter-million irrigators in Pakistan’s vast Indus Basin watershed allow us to construct a novel index of lobbying power. Consistent with our model of misgovernance, the decline in water availability and land values from channel head to tail is accentuated along canals having greater lobbying power at the head than at the tail.

Keywords: Bureaucracy, rent-seeking, corruption, common property resource, irrigation

JEL codes: D73, P48, Q15, Q25

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