Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment.
Fresh water is a finite resource. This is supported by the quantitative review of global water cycle, which suggests a fixed annual volume of water. Fresh water is a natural resource that needs to be maintained by ensuring effective management of water resources. Water is needed for different purposes, functions and services, therefore, water management should be integrated and take account of both demand for and threat to this resource.
This principle assigns a river basin or a catchment area to be a water management unit, which is the so-called hydrographical approach to water management.
Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels.
Water is a resource that affects all. True participation is ensured only when all stakeholders are involved in the decision making. A participatory approach involving all stakeholders is the best strategy to achieve long-term accord and consensus. Participation means taking responsibility for and acknowledging impact of this sector on other water users and water ecosystems as well as committing to increasingly effective use and sustainable development of water resources.
It should be noted that participation does not necessarily result in consensus, therefore, arbitrage and other conflict resolution mechanisms should be ensured. Governments should work to ensure participation of all stakeholders, in particular, vulnerable groups of the population. It should be admitted that today poor groups of the population will benefit least from a mere participatory environment without enhanced participation mechanisms. Decentralizing decision making to the lowest level is the only strategy to enhance participation.
Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water.
It is generally accepted that women play a key role in the collection and safeguarding of water for domestic purposes and, in many instances, agricultural use. At the same time, women play a less powerful role than men in the management, problem analysis and decision making related to water. IWRM demands the role of women to be acknowledged.
In order to ensure full and effective participation of women at all levels of decision making, account should be taken of approaches that public agencies use to assign social, economic and cultural functions to men and women. There is an important link between gender equality and sustainable water management. Participation of men and women playing a decision making role at all levels of water management can expedite the achievement of sustainability, while integrated and sustainable water resources management greatly contributes to gender equality by improving access of both women and men to water and water-related services, thus serving their daily needs.
Water is a public good and has a social and economic value in all its competing uses.
Within this principle, it is vital to recognize first the basic right of all human beings to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price. Managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources. As soon as water is collected from a source, it has a price as an economic and social good. Past failure to effectively manage water resources is associated with failure to recognize the economic value of water. Water cost and charge are two different things that should be clearly differentiated. As a regulating or economic mean, water cost in alternative uses is important to efficiently distribute water as a scarce resource. Water charge is used as an economic tool to support vulnerable groups and influence their water saving and efficient use behaviors by providing incentives to manage demand, cost recovery and readiness of individual users to pay for extra water management services.
Recognizing water as an economic good is a key decision-making tool to distribute water among different sectors of the economy and different users within sectors. It is particularly important when water supply cannot be increased.
Integrated water resources management is based on the equitable and efficient management and sustainable use of water.
It recognises that water is an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good, whose quantity and quality determine the nature of its utilisation.