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Water scarcity

Many countries do not have sufficient water to meet demand, with the result that aquifer depletion due to overextraction is common. Moreover, the scarcity of water is accompanied by a deterioration in the quality of available water due to pollution and environmental degradation. Dams and reservoirs coupled with deforestation in some watersheds have reduced stream water levels, lowered water tables, degraded riparian wetlands and diminished freshwater aquatic diversity. Excessive demand for groundwater in coastal cities such as Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta, Karachi and Manila has led to saline intrusion and ground subsidence.

Government policies and strategies have traditionally been concerned with increasing supply. However, policies have recently become increasingly focused on an integrated approach to water resource management by emphasizing demand management measures such as efficient water use, conservation and protection, institutional arrangements, legal, regulatory and economic instruments, public information and inter-agency cooperation. Common elements in the national policies and strategies now being adopted include integration of water resources development and management into socio-economic development; assessment and monitoring of water resources; protection of water and associated resources; provision of safe drinking water supply and sanitation; conservation and sustainable use of water for food production and other economic activities; institutional and legislative development; and public participation.

In India, a new irrigation management policy aims to improve water application efficiency through the use of modern technologies such as drip/sprinkler irrigation and better on-farm irrigation measures. In the Republic of Korea, where agriculture uses more than 50 per cent of water resources, the government's water resources development plan for the 21st century highlights measures that relate to increased food production with efficient water use (Kwun 1999). Decentralized water management is also being encouraged in countries such as China where city or provincial authorities are authorized to manage water resources. In India, multidisciplinary units in charge of developing comprehensive water plans have been established in some states. Stakeholder participation has reduced operational costs in countries such as Pakistan by involving communities in the development of water supply, sanitation, and water pollution prevention facilities and their maintenance.

Progress has also been made in adopting a basinwide approach. The Indus Basin water-sharing accord between India and Pakistan, the acclaimed Water Sharing Treaty between India and Bangladesh, the India-Bhutan cooperation on hydropower development and India-Nepal cooperation in harnessing transboundary rivers are examples of transboundary cooperation on water management in South Asia.

A major challenge is to change the fragmented sub-sectoral approaches to water management that have caused conflict and competition in the past, and to design and implement integrated mechanisms, particularly for projects that transcend sub-sectors.

Lake Toba-Lake Champlain Sister Lakes Exchange

North-South cooperation between organizations in Indonesia and the United States has contributed to enhanced catchment management in the Lake Toba watershed - the world's largest volcanic crater lake, which covers about 4 000 km2. The Indonesian lake, which suffers from degraded water quality, loss of biological diversity and invasions of troublesome non-native plants and animals, has benefited from institutional cooperation between the Lake Toba Heritage Foundation and the Lake Champlain Basin Programme (LCBP) in Vermont, United States. The Foundation used part of a grant from the United States Agency for International Development to establish a sister lakes relationship with the LCBP. The exchange programme has helped address freshwater management issues in the Lake Toba catchment using experiences from another catchment and region.

The programme demonstrates the following lessons:

  • freshwater lakes of the world share similar management challenges;
  • some of the greatest challenges have to do with managing a resource shared
    by multiple jurisdictions in a large geographic area;
  • many of the management solutions require successful citizen and stakeholder involvement; and
  • management experience can be directly transferred to other countries.

Source: UNCSD 1999