GIWA in depth - Why a new water initiative?

UNEPGEFUniversity of Kalmar
GIWA - why a new water initiative?

Why another water assessment? Is there not enough information already to start taking action to address the problems of international, transboundary waters?

That could be one's first reaction when hearing of the new Global International Waters Assessment - GIWA - a four-year UNEP-led, GEF-funded initiative, executed by Kalmar University in Sweden.

Marine, freshwater and groundwater issues are already being addressed in many contexts and by many international, regional, national and local bodies. There is already a large global water community and a number of programmes, projects and treaties for water issues. So why launch a new global initiative to cover 66 transboundary marine, freshwater and groundwater areas all over the world?

One answer is that although we have identified many areas where immediate action on environmental protection is necessary and often overdue, most of our actions focus on removing the symptoms of environmental degradation but neither identify nor address its root causes.

The urgent need for an assessment of causes of environmental degradation of water areas was highlighted by the UN Special Session on the Environment in 1997, where commitments were made regarding the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) on freshwater in 1998 and oceans and seas in 1999.

Another answer is that actions aimed at resolving environmental problems in international waters frequently fail to identify the geographical boundaries of the problem. Water problems are often transboundary, water bodies are often shared between two or more countries. The boundaries of the area where one observes the actual water-related problem are not necessarily the same as the boundaries of the activity causing the problem or the place where it originates.

A third answer is that there is very limited financial support for addressing international waters problems. This makes it necessary to agree upon funding priorities in order to deal with certain key issues whilst gradually trying to attain a more comprehensive approach towards the others

Yet another answer is the lack of objective information which could help pinpoint the root causes of environmental problems, as well as the barriers to be overcome in solving them. Such information would clearly be a valuable asset for improving the design of international programmes offering technical and financial assistance to the affected countries.

Currently, GEF is the only globally accessible incremental funding mechanism. Unlike the GEF project portfolios on biological diversity, climate change, and ozone depletion, the portfolio on international waters does not address a single global convention. As a result, it has often proven difficult to prioritize international water projects, particularly given the insufficient understanding of the nature and root causes of their environmental problems.

International assessments have already been made on biological diversity, climate change, and ozone depletion. The lack of an assessment on international waters has been a serious impediment to the implementation of the international waters component of GEF.

GIWA is not just another water initiative. It is expected to represent the most objective comprehensive assessment of transboundary water probems, and their societal root causes, conducted so far.

"Seas, lakes, wetlands, rivers, groundwater basins etc. do not only provide us with water for all human purposes. They also constitute life-support systems, which provide us with fundamental ecological and other services. The character of our planet, physically as well as biologically, is shaped by water. Without water all life ceases.

Even though man is dependent of water in a broad sense, we have degraded aquatic environments and mismanaged aquatic resources at a global scale. Pollution, destruction of habitats, overutilization of living resources etc. threaten the future development of human societies, especially in developing countries. Water issues therefore play an important and increasing role in international development co-operation. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has designated International Waters as one of its four focal areas. GIWA will provide the information needed for GEF‚s work in this area.

Dr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of UNEP, when announcing the start of GIWA in April 1999, stated that "the lack of an International Waters Assessment has been a unique and serious impediment to the implementation of on-the-ground action since there exists no basis on which to identify areas of global priority for intervention."

Dr. Töpfer also noted: "Comparable to the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Biodiversity Assessment, and the Stratospheric Ozone Assessment, spearheaded by UNEP, the Global International Waters Assessment will provide the intellectual leadership in dealing with global environmental problems and threats plaguing transboundary water bodies."

GIWA is a worldwide assessment but will mainly be executed in 66 subregions. It will to a great extent be based on the many studies, which exist or are ongoing at various levels. Close co-operative links to all relevant bodies and activities, constituting the global GIWA network, will be established, encompassing exchange of data, co-ordination of programmes, joint activities etc. Duplication of work must be avoided. A well-designed network and an active participation of relevant organisations in all sub-regions will be two preconditions for a successful implementation of GIWA.

Per Wramner
GIWA Scientific Director

Global International Waters Assessment, GIWA
SE- 391 82 Kalmar, Sweden
Phone: +46- 480 44 60 00. Fax: +46- 480 44 73 55.

page last modified on 22 August 2006