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Integrated Water Resources Management

WSSD Plan of Implementation: Develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005

Box 11: Freshwater – coast linkages in the Danube-Black Sea region

The Danube and Black Sea region contains the single most important non-oceanic water body in Europe. Every year, about 205 km3 of river water pour from the Danube into the Black Sea from an 800 000 km2 basin.

The Black Sea is one of the most remarkable regional seas in the world. It is almost cut off from the rest of the world’s oceans but it is up to 2 212 metres deep. Its eutrophication since the 1960s, due to excessive loads of nutrients that enter via the rivers and directly from the coastal activities, has had a major impact on biological diversity and human use of the sea, including fisheries and recreation.

During recent years there has been a major change for the better due to a reduction in the use of fertilizers in Black Sea catchment areas (see nitrogen cascade issue in the Emerging Challenges section).

Sources: ERN 2003, CEC 2001, Mee 2001  

In developing an integrated approach to water resource management, it must be recognized that there are fundamental linkages between upstream river basins and associated coastal zones. More than a third of the world’s population currently lives in settlements either on, or in close proximity to, coastal areas, and this proportion is expected to increase in the future. An estimated 80 percent of the pollutants entering coastal waters, mostly fromland-based sources, are transported via rivers (Box 11). Deforestation and other land use changes in a river basin can increase loads of
sediment, nutrients and other chemicals to coastal zones. Changes in flows attributable to water withdrawals for agricultural, industrial and domestic use, and for hydropower production, can change salinities in estuaries and lagoons. Tourism plays a major role in many river basins and coastal areas and has numerous linkages with water in both systems (Box 12). At the same time, coastal zones contain some of the world’s most productive, and environmentally-sensitive, aquatic ecosystems, including estuaries, lagoons, mangrove forests, and coral reefs, all of which are being subjected to increased pressures. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) was introduced at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development as a comprehensive approach for achieving sustainable freshwater resource use, reducing human vulnerability to water-related environmental change. At the same time Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) was widely advocated as the most appropriate policy framework for the coastal-marine interface. Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management (ICARM) is a third approach, merging the two. It promotes the adoption of goals, objectives and policies and the establishment of governance mechanisms that recognize the relationships between the two systems, with a view to developing environmental protection and encouraging socio-economic development. Some international agreements and declarations already recognize this freshwater-coastal linkage such as the Convention on Protection and Use of Transboundary Waters and International Lakes, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, and the EU Water Framework Directive.

Box 12: Some tourism – water interlinkages

Over the last 30 years, there has been an explosive increase in international tourism – a sector that now generates US$474 billion per year or about US$1.3 billion per day. In addition to economic benefits, tourism also has water-related impacts. For example, tourism contributes about seven per cent of the total wastewater pollution in the Mediterranean, where an average tourist accounts for 180 litres of wastewater per day. In some Mediterranean islands, drinking water sources have become contaminated with saltwater, as a result of excessive withdrawals.

Tourists often use a disproportionate amount of water. In Granada, for example, the average tourist uses seven times more freshwater than a local person, a ratio that is common in many tourist areas in developing countries. In the Philippines, the quantity of water used for tourism is so high that rice paddy cultivation is threatened by reduced water availability.

There is a range of technical and management approaches for mitigating the negative impacts of tourism on water quality and quantity. These include measures for water conservation, engineered and natural wastewater treatment systems, and options for water reuse. Some of these solutions can be directly implemented by tourism managers, whereas others require broader political support, such as the development of a water management and wastewater treatment plan.

Sources: Mastny 2002, UNEP 2003c, UNWWAP 2003, WTO 2003


Box 13: Integrated assessment for IWRM

To achieve sustainable freshwater supplies IWRM requires a comprehensive assessment of the readily-available freshwater resources, as well as the natural and anthropogenic factors affecting their supply and demand.

The scientific and engineering elements of such an assessment are themselves demanding and include the quantity, quality and location of the freshwater resources in a drainage basin (or aquifer), as well as the basin’s geology, physiography, soil types, flora and fauna, types and sources of pollution, population centres, range of land uses, locations of water withdrawals and return flows, and so on. The environmental linkages between these various components must also be identified and factored into the sustainable management equation.

Even more important are the relevant socioeconomic elements that need to be assessed. These include the institutions responsible for water allocation, use and protection in the drainage basin; the existing legal framework(s) and effectiveness of existing water governance mechanisms, the prevailing social and cultural customs, the basin demography, the health and educational characteristics of the basin’s inhabitants, the economic characteristics of the basin and its inhabitants, the enforcement of existing regulations and standards and the prevailing political realities, among others.

These socio-economic and institutional elements are critical because they define how people use their freshwater resources, and whether or not they do so in a sustainable manner.

Sources: Laszlo and others 1988, Rast 2003

Many governments, international agencies and organizations, and donors currently use IWRM as a guiding principle to achieve sustainable freshwater resources. The World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership (2000) actively promote the implementation of this concept. Nevertheless, successful implementation of IWRM remains elusive and there are few concrete examples of it in action. Practical guidance on appropriate methods and techniques for better identifying, analysing and integrating the various scientific, technical and socio-economic elements to be considered in a given case is still urgently needed (Box 13), and remains a significant constraint to the effective implementation of relevant freshwater programmes and activities.

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