Advancing integrated water resources management

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a process that promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM is a cross-sectoral policy approach designed to replace the traditional, fragmented sectoral approach to water resources and management that has led to poor services and unsustainable resource use. Integrated Water Resources Management is based on the understanding that water resources are an integral component of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good.

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture, for example, mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use; contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems; if water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems (environmental flows), less can be diverted to grow crops. There are plenty of other examples of the basic theme that unregulated use of scarce water resources is wasteful and inherently unsustainable.

Implementing Integrated Water Resources Management thereby helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health. Worldwide, water policy and management are beginning to reflect the fundamentally interconnected nature of hydrological resources, and IWRM is emerging as an accepted alternative to the sector-by-sector, top-down management style that has dominated in the past.


What we do

UN Environment has led global efforts through UN-Water for countries to report on the status of implementation of IWRM and water efficiency plans, agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, through the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPoI).

UN Environment is the global custodian of SDG target 6.5.1 on Integrated Water Resources Management, supporting countries to develop and implement national IWRM processes.

The UNEP-DHI Partnership – Centre on Water and Environmentconducts extensive work on IWRM worldwide, including the management of the IWRM Data Portal, which offers a comprehensive collection of national implementation progress data drawn from global country progress surveys.


For more information, click here to access the UN-Water IWRM global status report.