IWRM and Sustainable Development Goals

Global Water Partnership has learned from its worldwide Network of Partnerships that increasing water security requires sound policies, knowledge, and action. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 is an opportunity to explain why the structured approach known as Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) can contribute to meeting the SDGs.

According to the Global Risk Report (2015), water crises is ranked the highest among the top ten global risks in terms of impact and eighth in terms of likelihood. The impact of climate change will only exacerbate water crises. Many people lack access to water resources for drinking water supply and many regions are faced with economic water scarcity. The scale of today’s water security challenge should not be underestimated. Threats to water security come from many different areas: rapidly growing and urbanising populations with changing lifestyles and consumption patterns; competing demands from agriculture, industry, and energy; unpredictable risks caused by climate change and environmental degradation; and growing tension over scarce water resources that flow across administrative boundaries.

In the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), water security for direct human needs gained prominence. In the development of the SDGs there is an additional focus on sthe ustainable management of water for economic growth and on water risks. Placing the water dedicated goal in the SDG broader context will foster attention to water resources management practices more prominently.

IWRM provides a framework within which to consider trade-offs between different development objectives and, where possible, to identify win-win water investments. Water related investments can increase economic productivity and growth. This relation is bi-directional; the resulting economic growth can provide the resources to finance capital-intensive investments in water related infrastructure.  In other words, while economic growth can enhance risks (such as water pollution) it also provides the critical resources needed to manage water related risks (flood protection measures). An important question in the GWP/OECD report was researched - “How much is an improvement in water security worth (compared to other pressing needs)?” Or conversely – “What is it worth to reduce the risks associated with poorly managed water resource systems?”

By aligning and integrating interests and activities that are traditionally seen as unrelated or that, despite obvious interrelationships, are simply not coordinated, IWRM can foster more efficient and sustainable use of water resources to achieve the SDGs. The SDGs alone cannot establish a policy guideline. However, IWRM might help to establish policies on local, national and even international level. IWRM is not simply a process designed to carry us to a set of SDGs targets but a way of thinking that enhances our capacity to tackle multi-objective, multi-sectoral development planning such as is embodied by the SDGs. IWRM is a structured process that addresses the need to bring together those who use water and those who have a great impact on the governance of water to work together to solve water challenges.

Many countries have developed IWRM and water efficiency plans following the target set in Johannesburg 2002. However, few plans have been implemented and that now has to be a priority. IWRM plans must therefore be part of national development strategies.

There exists synergy between the various SDG-linked goals: resilient infrastructure (9.1, 9.4, 9A), sustainable cities (11B, 11.5), sustainable consumption (12.2), inclusive societies (10.2), global partnership (17.6, 17.9). It will be difficult to make progress on a few without progress on the others. This is certainly true for those in which water plays a role. In this context, an important dimension of IWRM is that is creates a comprehensive framework for water management options to be introduced into broader national and international development planning in a structured way.

Posted: 2015-08-25


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