The challenges faced by more and more countries in their struggle for economic and social development are increasingly related to water. Water quality, availability and accessibility are major areas in water management that have far reaching impacts as it relates to food security, health, economic stability, conflict and human well-being. Furthermore, these challenges are exacerbated by increased demand, competition, and climate change. Here are some of the most pressing key water-related challenges we are currently facing:
- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: In 2020, 1 in 4 people lacked safely managed drinking water and about 3.6 billion did not have access to safely managed sanitation services (JMP, 2021). Based on the current trends, there will still be 1.6 billion people that will be lacking safe drinking water and 2.8 billion that will not have access to safely managed sanitation at home by 2030. There is a global lack of basic hygiene services with approximately 2.3 billion with no access to handwashing facilities with water and soap.
- Flood and Droughts: The world has seen approximately 4,000 flood and drought events since the turn of the century (EM-DAT, 2021). The World Bank estimates that at least 3 billion people have been affected by extreme water-related events – approximately 1.65 billion by floods and 1.43 billion by droughts (World Bank, 2021). The GWP/OECD Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth estimated urban property flood damages resulted in approximately US$120 billion per year (Sadoff C. et al., 2015)
- Water pollution: Approximately 80% of the wastewater worldwide goes untreated, meaning that, in most parts of the world, industrial waste and sewage are dumped directly into rivers and oceans (UNEP, 2021). It is estimated that more than 8 million tons of plastic debris end up in the oceans every year, impacting fishing and tourism activities as well as jeopardizing the vitality of coastal and marine ecosystems (IUCN, 2021).
- Ecosystem degradation & biodiversity loss: The surface water in about 1 out of 5 basins has seen high increase or decrease in the past 20 years, which has severely affected freshwater ecosystems (UNEP, 2021). Since the pre-industrial era, the world had seen a 80% loss in the freshwater and costal wetlands and a drop of about 5% in the surface covered by mangrove ecosystems since 1996 (UNEP, 2021). Freshwater wildlife populations have dropped by over 80% since 1970 (Wetlands International, 2021).
A Water Secure World
Sustainable development will not be achieved without a water secure world (GWP’s vision). A water secure world integrates a concern for the intrinsic value of water with a concern for its use for human survival and well-being.
UN-Water defines water security as “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human wellbeing, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against waterborne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”
GWP’s strategy describes a water secure world as one which harnesses water's productive power and minimises its destructive force. It is a world where every person has enough safe, affordable water to lead a clean, healthy and productive life. It is a world where communities are protected from floods, droughts, landslides, erosion, and water-borne diseases. Water security promotes environmental protection as well as social justice, and addresses the impacts of poor water management. A water secure world reduces poverty, advances education, and increases living standards. It is a world where there is an improved quality of life for all, especially for the most vulnerable—usually women and children—who benefit most from good water governance.
Water security also means addressing environmental protection and the negative effects of poor management. A water secure world means ending fragmented responsibility for water and integrating water resources management across all sectors – finance, planning, agriculture, energy, tourism, industry, education, and health. An integrated approach to water resources management is at the heart of GWP’s strategy
What is IWRM?
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment.
IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health. Worldwide, water policy and management are beginning to reflect the fundamentally interconnected nature of hydrological resources, and IWRM is emerging as an accepted alternative to the sector-by-sector, top-down management style that has dominated in the past.
Water policy and management need to reflect the fundamentally interconnected nature of hydrological resources, and IWRM is the accepted alternative to the sector-by-sector, top-down management style that has dominated the past. The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of water resources are interdependent. For example, high irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use; contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems; if water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops.
IWRM and The Dublin Principles
IWRM is a framework designed to improve the management of water resources based on four key principles adopted at the 1992 Dublin Conference on Water and the Rio de Janeiro Summit on Sustainable Development. These principles hold that:
- Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment
- Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels
- Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water
- Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good
IWRM is a Process
IWRM should be viewed as a process rather a one-shot approach -one that is long-term and forward-moving but iterative rather than linear in nature. Given that each country differs in terms of history, socio-economic conditions, cultural and political context, and environmental characteristics, there is no single blueprint for IWRM and it can be adapted to resolve the problems faced in each local context (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2011).
There is not one correct administrative model. The art of IWRM lies in selecting, adjusting, and applying the right mix of tools for a given situation. Agreeing on milestones and timeframes is critical for success. Implementation may take place on a step-by-step basis, in terms of geographical scope and the sequence and timing of reforms. Scope, timing, and content of measures can be adjusted according to experience. In developing a strategy and framework for change, it is important to recognize that the process of change is unlikely to be rapid.
For policy-making and planning, applying an integrated approach requires that:
water development and management takes into account the various uses of water and the range of people’s water needs;
- stakeholders are given a voice in water planning and management, with particular attention to securing the involvement of women and the poor;
- policies and priorities consider water resources implications, including the two-way relationship between macroeconomic policies and water development, management, and use;
- water-related decisions made at local and basin levels are along the lines of, or at least do not conflict with, the achievement of broader national objectives; and
- water planning and strategies are incorporated into broader social, economic, and environmental goals.
IWRM Is A Cross Sectoral Policy Approach
The basis of IWRM is that there are many different uses of our finite water resources are interdependent and because of this a cross-sectoral policy approach is needed. IWRM is designed to replace the traditional, fragmented sectoral approach to water resources and management that has led to poor services and unsustainable resource use. IWRM is based on the understanding that water resources are an integral component of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good.
IWRM Pillars and Tools
Integrated water resources management is based on the equitable and efficient management and sustainable use of water and recognises that water is an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good, whose quantity and quality determine the nature of its utilisation.
This emphasizes the importance of an integrated approach as well as clearly articulating the link between water resources management and the “3Es” of sustainable development: economic efficiency in water use, social equity, and environmental and ecological sustainability.
An IWRM approach focuses on four pillars:
- an enabling environment of suitable policies, strategies and legislation for sustainable water resources development and management,
- putting in place the institutional framework through which to put into practice the policies, strategies and legislation, and
- setting up the management instruments required by these institutions to do their job.
- Creating the financial tools needed to implement the instruments developed
From these four pillars, 84 tools have been specifically designed to explain the interconnected areas between these pillars as well as give guidance on the implementation actions.
IWRM and the SDGs
The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 is an opportunity to explain why the integrated approach can contribute to meeting the SDGs, particularly since SDG #6 is all about water – and calls for the implementation of integrated water resources management at all levels.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report (2015 and 2016), “water crises” is ranked near the top of the ten global risks that threaten economic growth. The impact of climate change will only exacerbate water crises. The scale of today’s water security challenge should not be underestimated. Threats to water security come from many different areas: rapidly growing and urbanising populations with changing lifestyles and consumption patterns; competing demands from agriculture, industry, and energy; unpredictable risks caused by climate change and environmental degradation; and growing tension over scarce water resources that flow across administrative boundaries.
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) provides a framework within which to consider trade-offs between different development objectives and, where possible, to identify win-win water investments. Water related investments can increase economic productivity and growth. This relation is bi-directional; the resulting economic growth can provide the resources to finance capital-intensive investments in water related infrastructure. In other words, while economic growth can enhance risks (such as water pollution) it also provides the critical resources needed to manage water related risks (flood protection measures). An important question in the GWP/OECD report "Securing Water, Sustaining Growth" was researched - “How much is an improvement in water security worth (compared to other pressing needs)?” Or conversely – “What is it worth to reduce the risks associated with poorly managed water resource systems?”
There exists synergy between various SDG-linked goals: resilient infrastructure (9.1, 9.4, 9A), sustainable cities (11B, 11.5), sustainable consumption (12.2), inclusive societies (10.2), global partnership (17.6, 17.9). It will be difficult to make progress on a few without progress on the others. This is certainly true for those in which water plays a role. In this context, an important dimension of IWRM is that is creates a comprehensive framework for water management options to be introduced into broader national and international development planning in a structured way.
By aligning and integrating interests and activities that are traditionally seen as unrelated or that, despite obvious interrelationships, are simply not coordinated, IWRM can foster more efficient and sustainable use of water resources to achieve the SDGs. IWRM is not simply a process designed to carry us to a set of SDGs targets, but a way of thinking that enhances our capacity to tackle multi-objective, multi-sectoral development planning such as is embodied by the SDGs.
Dealing with water issues requires commitment at the highest political level. Water security will only be reached when political leaders take the lead, make the tough decisions about the different uses of water, and follow through with financing and implementation. Having water resources management as part of the SDGs provides political leaders with that mandate.