National IWRM plans (C4.01)


Most of the policies and decisions regarding water resources management are determined at the national level. National governments and water agencies influence international cooperation on transboundary water bodies and develop the national framework of policies, legislation, and institutions within which water resources management at basin and sub-basin level takes place (see Tools A; B).

Depending on basin boundaries and scales, nations may be part of international basins, such as seen in the Amazon, Danube, Niger, Senegal, Nile, and Mekong river basins. At the same time, these nations also have basins which are fully within national borders and thus sub-ordinate to the national level. The boundaries of ground water aquifers seldom coincide with those of the river basins or in some cases national boundaries. The management of such aquifers often requires collaboration across national river basin boundaries and in some cases international cooperation is required. Small Island Developing States due to their size face their own particular challenges.

A national IWRM plan will be set within this geographical and political context, and will take into account all activities and developments requiring water or influencing the water resource. Among these are ecological requirements, water supply and sanitation, irrigation, land use and forestry, fisheries, hydropower, and industrial use. The aim of a national IWRM plan is to provide enough water for development and society without compromising environmental water needs.

A good IWRM plan includes a prioritised series of programmes for implementing the framework. The sequel to an IWRM plan is a development plan. Implementing the management plan is a prerequisite for implementing the development plan: it ensures that the development takes place in a balanced fashion with due consideration of the national policies and strategies by explicitly addressing operational aspects.

There are three key issues that need to be addressed in the preparation of a plan: managing participation; mobilizing resources; and building capacity.

Managing participation – A plan should be prepared with participation of key stakeholders. Only if supported by diverse stakeholders can IWRM plans survive disruptions of future leadership or governmental change. It is particularly important that representatives of key ministries are present such as Finance and Economic Planning. A plan must balance two possibly conflicting demands: it must win broad-based support from stakeholders in order to be effectively implemented; but it must also be realistic and practicable, which means resolving conflicts among often competing stakeholders. The key to balancing these demands is to ensure that the process of preparing a plan encourages broad participation by diverse stakeholders in a well-organized, time-bound fashion. Effective communication with and among stakeholders is very important in this process. Communication activities (see C5) should engage the key stakeholder groups, construct a realistic picture of water resource use and management, and ensure that stakeholders are up-to-date on plan preparation and how they may contribute to it.

Mobilizing resources – Preparing a plan costs money and requires human resources and technical skills. The participation component can be costly – especially to secure the participation of weaker groups – and this should be borne in mind when planning consultation exercises. Though the costs of preparing a plan are typically minor in comparison with the costs of plan implementation or water resources development and management more broadly, they must be properly estimated and budgeted for.

Building capacities (see B4) – Capacity is needed to prepare a plan as well as to implement it. Clearly, developing the substantive content of a plan will require technical capacities in a number of specialized areas. But capacity will also be needed to manage the participatory processes inherent in preparing a plan – meaning skills in communications, negotiation, conflict resolution, facilitation, consensus building, time management, and community mobilization. Building capacity for the preparation of a plan and its implementation should be seen as a continuous process. Each step brings in demands for new knowledge and competencies to help understand new directions, build commitment, and develop appropriate responses to resource management challenges.

The formulation of a national IWRM plan follows a distinct four phase approach:

  • Identify the range of water resources issues that occur across the country and assess their severity, mutual dependence and frequency of occurrence. A “user requirement issue” results from an inadequate matching of user requirements – demand – and water resources availability and quality – supply (see C1.01). An “impact issue” derives from human activities that negatively affect the quantity or quality of the water resource or from natural causes in the case of floods and droughts (see C2.04). International issues should also be taken into account, for instance upstream-downstream issues.
  • Identify the management interventions at all levels – national, basin, local - necessary to address the issues identified. Based on these interventions, identify the management functions required at each level. Management functions include such items as policy development, planning and coordination, water allocation, discharge regulation, monitoring, enforcement, and information dissemination. Transboundary problems may require concerted international interventions.
  • Analyse the present institutional capacities at all levels (national, basin, local), as well as the potentials and constraints regarding the water issues to be dealt with and management functions to be undertaken. The capacities relate to factors such as efficiency of institutional structures and adequacy of human and financial resources, available management instruments and of policies and legislation. International structures and agreements may be required to supplement the national institutions (see B1 and B2).
  • Prepare strategies for the development of deficient parts of the framework of national policies. Do the same for establishing legislation and regulations for IWRM, and for the development of institutional roles that allow a coordinated implementation of IWRM. Determine an approach to develop the required management instruments and associated skills. International strategies have to be developed in collaboration with other riparian nations.

Issues addressed in a national IWRM plan include:

  • Interfaces between macro-economic and water resource decision-making;
  • Efficiency and effectiveness of water infrastructure and service providers;
  • Mitigation of the effects of floods and droughts and other extreme water-related events;
  • Non-conventional water resources and conservation technologies, water quality and broader environmental issues;
  • Data collection systems, and access to information by users;
  • Policy instruments and the legal and regulatory framework;
  • The role of the state and the potential for public-private partnerships;
  • Processes for reconciling water quantity and quality needs of all water users;
  • Mechanisms for consultation and public participation;
  • Water allocation systems;
  • The roles of women in the provision, management and safeguarding of water;
  • Capacity building;
  • Management agencies (including river basin organizations);
  • Mechanisms to achieve financial sustainability
  • Conflict resolution mechanisms
  • Source of funding for implementation.

Lessons learned

  • In order to be effective, national IWRM plans need to be endorsed at the highest political level. Otherwise they run the risk of implementation being delayed or not carried out because ministries might work isolated from each other, or get caught up in struggles for authority.
  • A realistic IWRM plan requires the design of functions, structures, and procedures to take into account the financial and human resource constraints, the existing institutional structures, the management capacity, and the capacity for change.
  • Structures should be designed as need arises and should be flexible enough to meet immediate needs and leave the possibility for expansion open whenever appropriate.
  • Multi-stakeholder involvement in the decision processes are essential for the acceptability of the outcome.
  • Ecosystem requirements and water quality management are often largely neglected but need to be given full emphasis in the planning process.
  • Decentralised water resources management is often part of water reforms but implementation is often constrained by central agencies´ reluctance to share power and resources.