Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) describes the goal-directed, coordinated controlling of the development and use of watersheds, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and oceans.
It aims for a sustainable, ecosystem-conserving approach of managing natural water resources considering socio-economic, industrial and agricultural demands for water in times of a growing world population, increasing industrialisation and climate change. IWRM searches to bring together global and local players from various sectors influencing water resources.
The Global Water Partnership’s definition of IWRM is widely accepted. It states:
IWRM is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.
Key principles in IWRM – The Dublin Principles
- Freshwater 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
The International Conference on Water and the Environment, January 1992, Dublin'
Increasing global encroachment of water resources caused by all different kinds of sectors calls for new approaches for global water management. No matter if looking at a small scale farmer in Ethiopia, a family in Germany or a chemical company in China, they’re all in need of their share of the global water resources. As the demand for freshwater develops continuously, the pressure on water repositories increases to the same or even larger extent. This trend is even fortified under the influence of global and local climate changes.
Agriculture is the largest consumer of surface and groundwater resources. Globally seen 70% of water withdrawal is allotted to agricultural production, looking at the Middle East it is even up to 95%.(Briefing Note Water scarcity and agriculture .GIZ 2013')
As agricultural production continuously seeks to comply with the increasing demand not only for food but also for commodities, agricultural water use increases rapidly. Under the additional pressure of climate change, observable in the changing spatiotemporal distribution of rainfall, solutions need to be developed which will enable us to face the growing demands for agricultural products and at the same time to reduce the increase in agricultural water use. Institutional innovations are required which allow focusing on targets and trade-offs at the same time.
The idea of IWRM has been around since the first global water conference in Mar del Plata in 1977, but has only been specified after Agenda 21 and the World Summit on sustainable development in Rio 1992. The concept was developed on the ground of experiences of practitioners. (Integrated Water Resources Management in Action. WWAP, DHI Water Policy, UNEP-DHI Centre for Water and Environment. 2009)
Water users often have conflicting interests, so mechanisms to deal with user conflicts have to be installed. IWRM requires a continuous search for a balance of power and interests across several sectors and levels of decision making.
Working towards IWRM means for GIZ to look at the following aspects:
- Coordinating water sector planning and interventions with other water related sectors (especially agriculture, industry, environment and public health)
- Interlinking different levels of decision making (transboundary, national, regional and local level)
- Integrating different groups of stakeholders in the water sector and the related non-water sectors (public and private actors and civil society), analysing conflicting issues and taking into account different water users’ interests
- Setting up and improving continuous processes to agree upon objectives and measures for sustainable water management
- Looking at scenarios of water use considering economic, social and environmental impacts
- Integrating water resource protection into policies and programmes
- Integrating aspects such as definition of objectives and indicators, flexibility and evaluation into IWRM processes
As a result, IWRM processes predominantly need to be understood as a facilitation of social processes of communication and consultation. Such consultation processes contribute to identify compromises between conflicting interests of water users.
The definition of IWRM together with the Dublin principles provide guidance for water resource planning, management, monitoring and evaluation. In practice, however, IWRM needs to be implemented by individuals, institutions and projects by way of a “pragmatic but principled” approach that aims at incremental adaptation of practical work at their own level to this guidance.
IWRM is a process with ambitious overarching goals. All stakeholders will have to be aware that such processes will be:
- Highly complex – adaptation to changing framework conditions is needed;
- Highly interactive – a common understanding of problems and goals beyond water sector boundaries is needed;
- Highly political – mediation of interests is needed while embedding IWRM in overarching national and regional planning processes.
Politics and Planning
The political nature of the IWRM process demands a clear political leadership. The leading ministry/agency will have to possess of sufficient power, ownership and also sanctioning mechanisms across sub-sector programmes in order to guarantee the continuity of the IWRM process and achievement of targets.
The requirements of IWRM processes for planning, monitoring and evaluation are very ambitious given the actual conditions and scarce process management capacities available in most developing countries. Therefore, here again, “pragmatic and principled” procedures have to be followed.
Taking this into consideration, the methodology for planning and monitoring IWRM processes with focus on capacity development comprises the following steps:
- Analysis and description of the actual water management situation in a particular country or basin, by referring to the IWRM definition.
- Explicit formulation of a vision for sustainable water management, i.e. description of clear objectives that will be realized, including milestones and key indicators.
- Initiating participatory processes that result in the formulation of medium term objectives and key indicators. Here again, emphasis on the process characteristics of IWRM is essential and reference to the related Global Water Partnership tools is recommendable.
- Deducting and implementing measures and activities for each step from the actual state to the medium term objectives.
- Selecting appropriate monitoring and evaluation approaches, including the formulation and tracking of key indicators.
These steps will have to be repeated over time in order to realise an IWRM process and to approach the overarching goals of IWRM. In developing countries, this is expected to be a long-term process.
- ↑ World Bank (2003). Water Resources Sector Strategy Paper. Available online under http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/main
GIZ (2013): IWRM. Factsheet.
GIZ (2013): Sharing Experience with Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)