At the request of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development a global survey has been carried out to determine progress towards sustainable management of water resources using integrated approaches. Findings from the analysis of data from over 130 countries show that there has been widespread adoption of integrated approaches with significant impact on development and water management practices at the country level.

The rationale for a status report on water resources management

Agenda 21 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 called for “the application of integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources” (Chapter 18). UNCED recognized the challenges of managing water resources for a multiplicity of uses and threats which are set within the much broader contexts of changes in the economic, social and political landscapes.

UN-Water was asked by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UN CSD, at its meeting in 2005) to produce status reports on the progress of water resources management for the UN CSD meetings in 2008 and 2012. UN-Water called upon UNEP to lead a UN-Water Task Force on Water Resources Management and established a Working Group1 to prepare the present status report for submission to the UN CSD 2012, the Rio+20 conference.

The report follows an earlier UN-Water report presented to the 16th session of the CSD in 2008 which primarily took stock of the development and implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Efficiency Plans, as required in the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPoI). The present report is more extensive, covering more countries and addressing the development, management and uses of water resources, as well as the possible outcomes and impacts of integrated approaches. It is based on a 2011 UN-Water survey sent to the governments of all UN member states and a series of complementary interviews in 30 representative countries.

The report is intended to inform decision-making at the Rio+20 conference and follow-up global policy discourses. It will facilitate information exchange to enhance the coherence and impact of national efforts to improve water resources management and related work of the UN and other external support agencies at country level.

Key messages and recommendations

The following key messages and recommendations are based on an assessment of the findings from the survey2. The specific findings are summarized further below.

  1. Since 1992, 80% of countries have embarked on reforms to improve the enabling environment for water resources management based on the application of integrated approaches as stated in Agenda 21 and affirmed in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

To ensure continued progress and positive outcomes in applying integrated approaches to water resources management, government and external support agencies should learn from experience and increase their efforts. Implementing integrated approaches to water resources management should remain a key component of future development paradigms.

  1. Water-related risks and the competition for water resources are perceived by a majority of countries to have increased over the past 20 years.

Given the increasing challenges and risks, it is important that the international community supports countries to operationalize integrated approaches that focus on solutions that address country priorities and needs.

  1. Countries that have adopted integrated approaches report more advanced infrastructure development but further efforts are needed to ensure appropriate levels of coordination.

Countries should be supported in adopting integrated approaches to water resources management that are coordinated with the development of infrastructure to achieve growth and sustainable development goals.

  1. Countries report a gradual but positive trend in financing for water resources development and management with more diverse sources of fi­nance, but little progress on payment for water re­sources services.

More effort is needed to increase levels of financing for water resources management and to raise revenues from water resource and ecosystem services. Appropriate recording of financing for water resources development and management is needed in reporting mechanisms.

  1. Countries report improvements to the institutional framework together with improved policies, laws and systems over the past 20 years. This has led to better water resources management practices bringing important socio-economic benefits.

Targeted support is necessary to continue to improve the institutional framework for water resources management with emphasis on the group of countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI)3.

  1. Integrated approaches to water resources management and development are critical for progress towards a green economy.

The integrated approach to water resources management, as defined in Agenda 21, remains relevant and must be a key component of emerging strategies towards a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and a key element in building climate resilience.

  1. The survey has demonstrated the progress made with integrated approaches to water resources management as called for at the UNCED in 1992. To capitalize on this progress and ensure continuity the following target is proposed for the Rio+20 conference to consider:

By 2015, each country to develop its specific targets and timeframes for preparing and implementing a program of action and financing strategy to take its integrated approaches to water resources management forward in accordance with UNCED 1992 and subsequent global agreements.

8              The high country response to the survey demonstrates the value of reporting and emphasizes the need for a more rigorous, evidence-based, reporting system on progress with water resources development and management. The following target is proposed for the Rio+20 conference to consider:

By 2015 a global reporting mechanism on national water resources management be established. UN-Water is committed to facilitate and coordinate this process, drawing on its existing mechanisms.

Specific findings from the survey

The global survey carried out in 2011 has produced a wealth of data on water resources management from a country perspective. The survey report has generated a number of specific findings that can substantially support the process for the Rio+20 Conference.

Creating the enabling environment

  • 82% of countries are implementing changes to their water laws in what has been a far-reaching outcome of Agenda 21 proposing integrated approaches for the development, management, and use of water resources.
  • 79% of countries report changes in their water policy, however translating policy and legal changes into implementation is a slow process.
  • The survey showed that 65% of countries have developed integrated water resources management plans, as called for in the JPoI, and 34% report an advanced stage of implementation, however, progress appears to have slowed or even regressed in low and medium HDI countries since the survey in 2008.
  • 67% of countries reported the inclusion of water in national/federal development planning documents. Approximately a quarter of countries reporting on constraints noted obstacles relating to legal frameworks and strategic planning.

Establishing governance and institutional frameworks

  • Institutional reforms have been undertaken in many countries, correlating well with countries implementing legal and policy reforms. The aim has been to increase joint decision-making at national level, facilitate management at the basin level (71% of countries) and to legitimize stakeholder structures at community level. Country interviews indicate that institutional reform is slow but is showing efficiency gains.
  • A minority of countries indicate progress with stakeholder participation. There are reports from the country interviews that some countries have gained from effective stakeholder participation but more experience needs to be shared on how to get it right to avoid delays and high transaction costs.
  • Around 35% of countries have an advanced level of action across most of the capacity building areas however the need for capacity to implement an integrated approach is felt across all of the HDI groups.
  • The survey shows that efforts over the past 20 years to improve governance of water resources have been significant but this clearly remains an on-going process for most countries. The benefits in some cases are far reaching.
  • Most common constraints to the development of appropriate institutional arrangements relate to man­ dates; cross-sector coordination; capacity; and participation/ awareness.

Applying management instruments

  • Progress on integrated approaches to water resources management is demonstrated by a strong correlation of the results between progress on the enabling environment of policy, law and plans and a positive impact on management practices.
  • Water resources assessment and monitoring systems are being implemented in over 60% of countries.
  • Water resources management programs (includes allocation systems, groundwater management, environ­ mental impact assessment, demand mana­gement among others) are being implemented in more than 84% of the highest HDI group countries but only around 40% of other countries.
  • Level of development does not seem to be a barrier to improved management of water resources. The survey shows that progress is not constrained, or guaranteed, by HDI status. While very high HDI countries tend to cluster at the top this is not an exclusive space.

Developing infrastructure

  • Infrastructure development is at an advanced stage in some important areas with over 65% of countries reporting advanced implementation of water supply and hydropower infrastructure. However, fewer countries report advanced implementation for irrigation, rainwater harvesting. and investment in natural systems.
  • The analysis of the survey demonstrated a weak positive relationship between the development of the enabling environment for an integrated approach and progress with infrastructure. However, the interview reports indicated that the level of coordination in infrastructure development among sectors could be improved.

Financing for development of water resources

  • The responses indicate that a majority of countries report an increasing trend in financing for water resources development and management over the last 20 years from all sources. Slightly more than 50% of low HDI countries indicate an increasing trend for Government budgets and Official Development Assistance.
  • Whilst there has been some progress on raising revenues for water resources management from users and polluters, there is still much to do, especially regarding payment for ecosystem services, where the available data indicates that countries have made limited progress.
  • Approximately 50% of the total number of countries reporting on constraints noted that they faced management obstacles relating to financing.

Key issues from country perceptions

  • Countries consider that all water development issues listed in the questionnaire are of high priority and have

increased in significance over the past 20 years. Domestic water supply is clearly ranked by most countries as the highest priority for all HDI groups with water for growing cities ranked second. Water for agriculture is a high priority for many low HDI countries. Water for environment is a priority mainly for the very high HDI countries.

  • Countries perceive most water management issues to be a high priority and that they have increased in significance. Many countries give a high priority to infrastructure development/financing, legislation and the financing for water resources management.
  • Many countries across all HDI groups consider threats from floods and droughts to be a high priority and that the significance of such threats has increased.
  • Climate change is perceived as increasingly significant for many countries although it is considered less of a threat by low HDI countries compared with other water development and management issues.

Developing infrastructure

  • Infrastructure development is at an advanced stage in some important areas with over 65% of countries reporting advanced implementation of water supply and hydropower infrastructure. However, fewer countries report advanced implementation for irrigation, rainwater harvesting. and investment in natural systems.
  • The analysis of the survey demonstrated a weak positive relationship between the development of the enabling environment for an integrated approach and progress with infrastructure. However, the interview reports indicated that the level of coordination in infrastructure development among sectors could be improved.

Financing for development of water resources

  • The responses indicate that a majority of countries report an increasing trend in financing for water resources development and management over the last 20 years from all sources. Slightly more than 50% of low HDI countries indicate an increasing trend for Government budgets and Official Development Assistance.
  • Whilst there has been some progress on raising revenues for water resources management from users and polluters, there is still much to do, especially regarding payment for ecosystem services, where the available data indicates that countries have made limited progress.
  • Approximately 50% of the total number of countries reporting on constraints noted that they faced management obstacles relating to financing.

Multiple uses of water resources

  • Sustainable management and development of water resources is the foundation of a green economy and essential for inclusive growth. Water resources management underpins and interacts with all the pillars of the green economy, including environmental protection, food and energy.
  • On all questions concerning the environment the very high HDI group consistently registers higher concern than any other HDI group.
  • It is clear that most countries register concern with the sustainability of natural ecosystems as well as with food and energy concerns. Many countries are taking an integrated approach to these concerns, but many more still need to do so.
  • While water use efficiency is high priority in a good majority of countries, it is clear that introduction and imple­mentation of water efficiency measures is, in general, lagging behind particularly in low HDI countries. In the lowest three HDI categories water efficiency is not perceived to be integrated into water resources management. Even for very high HDI countries less than 50% have advanced implementation or full implementation.

Development impacts of improved water resources management

  • 54% of Very High HDI countries, 44% of medium and high HDI countries and 24% of low HDI countries reported high economic impacts from integrated approaches to water resources management. The most common impact for all HDI categories was an increase in productive efficiency related to water use, most commonly for agriculture.
  • Very high HDI countries reported by far the greatest positive environmental impacts from improved water resources management, especially related to improved water quality, often due to improved wastewater treatment. Improved flood and drought prevention/ management are reported by several countries.
  • The country responses across all HDI bands indicate that the main social impact over the past 20 years has been an improvement in water supply access. A number of countries in all HDI categories noted a contribution to improvements in human health, including a reduction in child mortality.

The strengths of the survey

  • The high response, with two thirds of all UN member states responding within a short time frame, indicates the interest in the survey and the importance of this issue. The report is based on the most comprehensive survey yet of the status of water resources management and paves the way for a more strategic approach to monitoring and reporting on this critical issue.
  • In contrast to the surveys used for the corresponding report for CSD16 in 2008, all countries were simultaneously requested to respond to the same questionnaire covering a wide range of water resources issues, ranging from uses of and threats posed by the resource through description of the enabling environment, measures taken to address issues and the outcomes of actions taken.

The limitations of the survey

  • Reporting on an issue of such complexity naturally leads to some shortcomings. These include ensuring equal objectivity in the responses between countries; and getting single responses to characterize a country with diverse circumstances and regions.
  • Focusing at the national level may not capture transboundary responsibilities as well as responsibilities at sub-national levels (especially in federal administrations). Finally, focusing on official government responses excludes any check or balance from others’ perspectives, although this was partly addressed by interviews in selected countries.

1.1 Water resources under threat: the changing world from Rio to Rio+20

The challenges of managing water resources for a multiplicity of uses and threats must be set within the much broader contexts of changes in the economic, social and political landscapes. The world has changed dramatically in a number of ways since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Prominent among these changes:

  • Demographics – population increased from about 5.3 billion in 1992 to about 7.0 billion today; felt disproportionally strongly in less developed countries. This has been accompanied by increased migrations of populations from rural to urban settings and high refugee movements due to climatic and social disasters with consequences for water resources management and use.
  • Demand for water has increased dramatically resulting from, inter alia, increased wealth and increased demand for food and energy;
  • Competition between uses has increased resulting in difficult allocation decisions;
  • Geo-political realignment – the breakup of states such as the former USSR or Yugoslavia contrast with new groupings such as the European Union that has been expanding over the last two decades. Several countries in East and South Asia have dramatically grown in economic strength leading to changes in international trade having implications for water resources management.
  • Climate change – increasing evidence of changes to the earth’s climate has prompted concern and controversy. The need to cope with existing variability and to adapt and build resilience brings significant implications for water resources availability and reliability associated with the greater likelihood of extreme events;
  • In many regions water availability has been reduced due to mining of groundwater, pollution and abstraction from upstream water sources;
  • Economic turmoil – Following a sustained period of growth, the 2008 economic and financial crises are undermining the integrity and stability of financial institutions, slowing down development and reversing gains in poverty reduction.
  • Communications advances – radical developments in our ability to communicate using mobile phones, through the internet and other social networking systems has facilitated knowledge sharing and global debate.

These changes, inter alia, form the backdrop against which water resources management must be evaluated. The growing need to address water resources emanates from 1990s and beyond”. Chapter 18 called for “the application of an integrated approach to the development, management and use of water resources”. This “integrated approach”, often shortened to IWRM, is now being adopted universally and the results of the adoption of such an approach is the focus for the current survey.

Another major international conference on development was the UN Millennium Assembly in 2000, which resulted in agreement on a set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Water resources management underpins all 8 of the MDGs and is directly linked to the realization of Goal 7 on ensuring environmental sustainability. The MDGs have had a major strategic influence on development policy in the last decade.

1.2       The international response since 1992

While the Agenda 21 covered most aspects of water resources management, some have assumed much greater importance in the intervening 20 years. Similarly, while improved water resources management and development is fundamental to achieving all the MDGs, it is not specifically mentioned. This has hampered efforts to raise the profile of water resources in policy debates.

Transboundary water issues were given little prominence in 1992; indeed, many countries in sensitive transboundary situations were reluctant to discuss such issues. While sensitivities still persist, it is now more readily accepted that upstream-downstream relationships must be more openly discussed as the issues are often critical to the maintenance of peace, good relations and prosperity. The discourse now not only pertains to surface waters but increasingly include transboundary aquifers.

The implications of climate change, while recognized in 1992, have really come to the fore in the past decade. As water is the principle medium through which climate change expresses itself, adaptation to climate change – and the need to build resilience – is increasingly being approached through water management initiatives.

Food security is critically dependent on the adequate quantity and quality of water supply – it has become of paramount importance in many less developed countries of the world. Energy supply is also recognized as of fundamental importance to economic and social development – the supply of energy from several sources is intimately linked to water availability. Water, energy and food linkages are identified as of prime importance in development towards a green economy.

Ten years after the UNCED a major impetus to improving water management through the adoption of the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach was provided by governments at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg, South Africa. One hundred and ninety-three countries agreed to the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), in which Article 25 calls for “the development and implementation of IWRM and water efficiency strategies, plans and programs at national and at regional levels, with national-level IWRM plans to be developed by 2005”.

Under the auspices of UN-Water, the first official status report on the WSSD resolution was submitted to the 16th session of the UN CSD in 2008. The report covered 104 countries (77 developing countries/economies in transition; 27 developed countries) in 2007/20084 and incorporated surveys carried out by UN-Water, UNEP, GWP and the African Development Bank. The consolidated results from several questionnaires5 indicated that 6 of the 27 developed countries had fully-implemented IWRM plans in effect, with another 10 having such plans in place or partially implemented. Only 38% of the 77 developing countries had completed plans (33% of the Asian countries; 38% of the African countries; 43% of the countries in the Americas) while the implementation level varied greatly. Vital information on the efficiency of water use was often ambiguous or lacking. The survey noted that developed countries were the leaders on issues such as public awareness campaigns and gender mainstreaming, while the Asian countries were the leaders in institutional reform issues. Africa was further advanced among the developing countries in stakeholder participation, microcredit programs, and subsidy issues; it was however behind the Americas and Asia on other IWRM-related issues.

The Secretary General’s input to the current Fourth Implementation Cycle of the CSD stresses that:

“The Integrated Water Resources Management and water efficiency plans that were called for at the 2002 WSSD triggered a process linking water management to national planning, budgeting and priority setting. Now is the time to move beyond this first step to ensure that water managers participate alongside finance and planning managers in national development planning processes….”.

1.3       Objectives of the global survey on water resources management

Effective water resources management must be underpinned by knowledge and understanding of the availability of the resource itself, the uses to which water is put and the challenges facing the managers at all levels of government. Countries have a great deal to learn from knowledge of conditions in other countries and the measures being taken elsewhere to address the challenges. Thus the need for global surveys conducted in an objective and consistent manner.

The current report, requested by CSD and overseen by UN-Water, was drafted by a Working Group led by UNEP. While the main purpose of the UN-Water report to the 16th session of the CSD in 2008 was to take stock of the development and implementation of IWRM and Water Efficiency Plans, from the JPOI, the purpose of this report is to focus on progress in the application of integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources. The report addresses planning, implementation as well as the possible outcomes and impacts of integrated approaches. It covers a broader range of countries, than the 104 countries whose information was considered in the 2008 report to CSD 16.

This report focuses on the status of the management of water resources in UN member states, identifies the current barriers to progress, and suggests ways in which these barriers can be overcome. Reporting on the outcomes and impacts of the application of integrated approaches to water resources management will inform the global policy discourse and the decision making of Rio+20 in particular. Furthermore, the report contributes to the development of a permanent monitoring and reporting framework to promote more sustainable development and management of freshwater resources after 2012. Finally, the work facilitates information exchange among UN agencies, national governments and civil society in a way that will enhance coherence and impact of the work of the UN at country level.

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