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Division of Early Warning and Assessment ( DEWA) -
Ecosystem Section
Water Assessment activities

The UNEP-DEWA Water unit supports the United Nations’ overall Water Policy and Strategy by providing critical technical support to global water assessments. The unit carries out regular and comprehensive fresh and marine water assessments in an integrated manner in collaboration with partner governments, international institutions and related UN agencies. Its water related activities have been implemented in close cooperation with relevant UNEP divisions like, Division of Global Environment Facility (DGEF), Division of Environmental Policy Implementation (DEPI) and Regional office for Africa (ROA), among others.

The overall goal of UNEP’s water assessment activities is to ensure that there is water for all, as envisaged in Agenda 21: to satisfy the freshwater needs of all countries for their sustainable development; and to assist these achieve their Millennium Development Goal for water; to have by the year 2015 the proportion of people without access to a suitable source of water and sanitation.

Objectives of the unit are: to assess and analyse fresh, coastal and marine water resources in cooperation with partners and collaborating centers; assess the quality and quantity of freshwater resources; analyse the environmental condition of global, regional and national fresh, marine and coastal water resources; assess threats, trends and emerging issues facing global and regional fresh, coastal and marine water environments; provide relevant information on major environmental threats, and to promote training and strengthen capacity; to provide the environmental information needed by decision-makers for better water and environmental management; and to contribute to better ecosystem management, information and knowledge for making sound policy decisions.

Assessment activities provide required information and data for decision making, derived from the work of partners and collaborators like the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) Programme on Water. Assessment findings from projects like the Assessment of the Vulnerability of Water Resources to environment change; Hydropolitical Vulnerability and resilience along International Waters, Assessment of the Pollution Status of Groundwater in African Cities also provides valuable information for decision making. Its water assessment activities fall into three major categories:
» Freshwater Assessments;
» Water Assessments covering both fresh and coastal-marine waters;
» Coastal and Marine Assessments.

Freshwater Assessments

These are carried out in the form of programmes or projects. For example:-

The UNEP-GEMS/Water programme carries out Global freshwater assessment activities. It is a global water quality monitoring programme, which collects and assesses water quality data from over 106 developing countries.  

The Assessment of the Vulnerability of Water Resources to Environmental Change
covers assessments of the vulnerability of surface and groundwater including socio-economic impacts, within the context of the Integrated Water Resource Management.

The just completed assessment of the pollution status of groundwater in Africa, which involved 11 cities has clearly showed the need for protecting the groundwater resource on the continent and through several fora at international meetings like the 4th World Water Forum, Africa’s River Basin and Lake Organizations meeting, and AMCOW meetings has managed to raise the profile of groundwater in Africa as a valuable resource for meeting the Millennium Development Goals on the continent. Its publication “Groundwater Pollution in Africa”, has received contribution from African Groundwater experts and other prominent experts from other parts of the World.

Earlier activities on groundwater in collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS), supported with funding from DFID and the Belgian government has produced the publication Groundwater and its susceptibility to degradation which provides a global overview of groundwater including human impacts on its quantity and quality. It examines the different issues affecting groundwater resources in rural and urban/industrial settings, where groundwater has become an integral part of billions of people's lives.

Following the popular notion that transboundary water resources would be the source of future conflicts, a study was carried out in collaboration with the Oregon State University involving its pool of researchers from other prominent academic institutions world wide. This resulted in the publication of “The Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements”, which offers information on past and existing treaties and offers information that can assist states to move forward in a collaborative way to develop appropriate policies for making sure that transboundary water resources issues are identified and successfully addressed in the coming years. The publication clearly shows with overwhelming evidence that by and large transboundary water resources have not been a source of conflicts but rather an opportunity for collaboration even among disputing states.

This was followed up by ongoing work at a global scale by examining each region on the issue of existing treaties, their vulnerabilities and people’s reliance’s. The African region assessment is complete and documented in the publication The hydropolitical vulnerability and resilience along international waters: Africa”. Work is going on in South America, Asia, Europe and North America. The assessments will be complete in 2008.

Other surface water activities carried out in collaboration with University of New Hampshire resulted in the production of an electronic version of The River Basin Information System (UNEP-RBIS) prototype which was intended as a preliminary phase in exploring global change impacts and challenges to natural resources on a limited scale focusing initially on selected, key basins and a subset of relevant data themes.

Water Assessments covering both fresh and coastal-marine waters

The unit in collaboration with the DGEF and Kalmar University working wit regional institutions carried out ‘The Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA)’ project. The aim of this activity was to bridge fundamental information gaps in the management of fresh and coastal marine waters. It looked at 5 major areas of concern: freshwater shortages, pollution, habitat and community modification, unsustainable fisheries exploitation, and global environmental change.

Working closely with GRID Arendal and other divisions and UN agencies, the Unit on behalf of UNEP produced factual information on water in graphics form examining the ‘Vital water graphics.The goal of this publication was to produce a clear overview, through a set of graphics, maps and other illustrations, of the state of the world's fresh and marine waters. The publication is under review and an updated version should be ready by early 2008.

The unit through its global net-work of prominent experts and institutions has made contribution to the GEO 3 and on going work on the GEO 4 chapters on water.

The unit on behalf of UNEP leads UNEP's input in the “The World Water Development Reports”, which is a World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) report covering all regions and most countries of the world, providing an up-to-date global overview of the state and uses of freshwater, critical water-related problems and societies’ coping mechanisms, See:

Coastal and marine Assessments

At its 21st Session held in Nairobi in February 2001, UNEP Governing Council took a decision for UNEP to explore the feasibility of establishing a regular process for assessment of the state of the marine environment.  This was followed by consultative meetings and workshops on the process all the way from 2001 to 2005.
At the 60th session the UN General assembly endorsed the conclusions of the second international meeting and decided to launch the start-up phase the assessment of assessments to be completed within two years, as a preparatory stage towards the establishment of the regular process.  In addition UNGA Resolution 60/30 in paragraph 91 decided to establish an organizational arrangement that includes an Ad Hoc Steering Group to oversee the execution of the assessment of assessment, two United Nations agencies UNEP and IOC of UNESCO to co-lead the process and a group of experts were therefore invited to be the lead agencies for the Assessments of Assessments. The composition of the Ad Hoc Steering group and its functions including the activities of the two lead agencies are spelt out in Para 92 to 95 of the UNGA Resolution 60/30.

The aim of this assessment of the assessments is to assemble information on and to make a constructive appraisal of marine including coastal assessments and establish how these assessments have been communicated to policy makers.  UNEP and IOC of UNESCO have taken the lead in preparing the background for the initial phase of the assessment of assessments.  Nominations from Member States and regional groups have been initiated through the President of UNGA. The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Steering Group was held 7-9 June 2006 at the Head quarters of the United Nations in New York back to back with the UNICPOLOS from 12-16 June 2006. For more information , see the Global Marine Assessments document.

In collaboration with the GPA and the FAO, the Unit made contribution to an electronic version The UN Atlas of the oceans”, which provides valuable information for use by scientists, students and resource managers who need access to underlying databases and approaches to sustainably using ocean resources.

For more information – refer to DEWA water unit website