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"Water, water everywhere! And not a drop to drink!


Water has emerged as one of the primary environmental concerns for the 21st
century. Many parts of the world are currently facing water shortages, while others
must contend with severe water pollution. The consequences are bleak: social,
economic and political instability leading, in the worst case scenario, to violence over
dwindling water resources. Immediate action is needed to stall the emerging crisis
and to begin reversing many of the trends we have set over time.

A number of organizations around the world are working towards resolving these
issues. It becomes apparent, though, that there are no easy solutions. Since water
flows irrespective of political and even cultural borders, cooperation amongst the
various stakeholders must become an essential part of the global effort.

Communication is key. While the larger initiatives on the part of governments and
prominent international organizations have been well documented, there is little
information regarding the efforts of smaller, more local projects in sustainable water

This on-line module on Sustainable Water Management Initiatives was developed

to highlight the various small scale and community-led projects in sustainable water
management undertaken by some of the world’s leading non-governmental
organizations in Sustainable Development.

As members of the Sustainable Development Communication Network (SDCN),

these organizations work together to develop, promote and share information on
sustainable development using the Internet and other electronic media. The work of
the various partners, including previous collaborative projects on Sustainable
Livelihoods and Sustainable Cities and information regarding membership, can be
accessed via the SDCN portal site: SD Gateway

This module integrates the work of four member organizations, based in Africa,
South Asia and Europe, as well as draws on the experiences of other organizations
in various parts of the world. The following is a breakdown of the module:
How to define the term Sustainable Water Management?

What is Sustainable Water Management? The term uses two important

concepts with respect to water: sustainability and management. In order to
understand Sustainable Water Management, it is important to define these


The Bruntland Report popularized the term sustainability for human and
environmental development when it was published in 1987. In the report,
sustainable activities were defined as ones where the needs of the present
generation are met without compromising the needs of future generations.

What the Bruntland definition implies is an equitable distribution of the

resource not only spatially between users in a given location, but
temporally between users over time. The idea is to allocate the resource in
such a way as for all, including the environment, to have an adequate
share without making any one group worse off, both now and in the future.

All this is wonderful, but is it a realistic goal to achieve? Well, yes and no.
There are inherent problems with introducing high-concept ideas into
mainstream society. However, it is not impossible without some changes in
the way we all think about the resources we use.

To achieve sustainability, there must be a rethinking of what we consider a

basic need. It is common in our society to say that we need a given
resource, but how much of it do we really need to use? Also, how do we
decide what the basic needs of our ecosystem and the organism living
within it are? Defining what constitutes a basic need is perhaps the
greatest challenge to adopting sustainable practices in our daily lives, as
interpretations of need vary widely from region to region, village to village
and even from person to person.


There has been a shift in recent years from the traditional ‘top-down’
approach to a more open management system where all levels have a say
in the allocation and use of the resource. If properly done, this system
ensures that the needs and concerns of those most affected by the use of
the resource are addressed, without loosing sight of the wider issues
touching the society as a whole.

But how does one manage a resource?

Information. Understanding the needs of the stakeholders, as well as the

possibilities and limitations of the resource, is needed to manage it
effectively. This requires sharing both indigenous and modern scientific
knowledge, as well as establishing a dialogue between individuals and
large institutions. With the right information, appropriate strategies can be
formulated to deal with the realities of resource management, such as
distribution, access, rights, etc.

Needless to say, effective communication is the key to managing a

resource shared between various users and managed by different levels.
Only once the needs of each user are understood can the resource be
allocated and managed in a sustainable manner.

Sustainable Water Management: A definition

Now that we have defined sustainability and management, it is easy to
understand the purpose of Sustainable Water Management (SWM), which
is simply to manage our water resources while taking into account the
needs of present and future users.

However, SWM is involves much more than its name implies. It involves a
whole new way of looking at how we use our precious water resources.
The International Hydrological Programme, a UNESCO initiative, noted:

"It is recognised that water problems cannot be solved by quick technical

solutions, solutions to water problems require the consideration of cultural,
educational, communication and scientific aspects. Given the increasing
political recognition of the importance of water, it is in the area of
sustainable freshwater management that a major contribution to
avoid/solve water-related problems, including future conflicts, can be

Therefore, SWM attempts to deal with water in a holistic fashion, taking

into account the various sectors affecting water use, including political,
economic, social, technological and environmental considerations.

Since the Mar del Plata Water Conference hosted by the UN in 1977,
SWM has been high on the international agenda. Later conferences and
workshops have addressed the issue and have attempted to refine the
concept as more and more research has been done in the area. The
current understanding of SWM is based primarily upon the principles
devised in Dublin during the International Conference on Water and the
Environment (ICWE) in 1992, namely:

1. Freshwater is a finite and valuable resource that is

essential to sustain life, the environment and
2. The development and management of our water
resources should be based on a participatory approach,
involving users, planners and policy makers at all levels.
3. Women play a central role in the provision, management
and safeguarding of water resources.
4. Water has an economic value and should therefore be
seen as an economic good.

These principles reflect the importance of water in our daily lives and the
need for proper communication, gender equity, and economic and policy
incentives to manage the resource properly.


 Water is a renewable resource fulfilling multiple functions

Water is a renewable resource that fulfils multiple functions. Yet we often use it non-renewably, and
we treat its many functions in isolated and singular fashion. In contrast to the fragmented sectoral and
administrative structures and jurisdictions that characterize society, water flows through the landscape
where it 'lubricates' both the natural and social components of the Earth. Through this flow, and
through the manipulation of it, the basic needs and wants of people are possible to satisfy. Water's
vital role for the environment and humans is linked to five main functions (Falkenmark and Lundqvist,
1. maintaining human health : clean water is essential for maintaining human health;
2. maintaining environmental health: the health of aquatic ecosystems is essential for
fish/seafood supply, is a major determinant of biodiversity, and provides for many other vital
goods and services;
3. supporting two production functions : a) biomass production, necessary for the supply of food,
fuel wood and timber; and b) economic production, since industrial development has
traditionally been "lubricated" by easy access to water;
4. supporting two carrier functions : a) water plays an active role in diluting and transpiration
wastes; and b) in the natural erosion and land processes of the global water cycle;
5. Psychological function, which makes water bodies, water views, fountains and so on
fundamental components of human preferences and desires. Water also plays a role in many
religions and cultural activities.

 Regional, local and global water imbalances: the issue of scale

There is no such thing as a global water problem - all problems manifest themselves at smaller
scales. For example, at the global average level, there is sufficient water to meet the needs and wants
of every human being. At the continental level, per capita water availability still seems more than
adequate, though large regional disparities appear. In Europe, each million cubic meters of water
available per year is "shared" by over 150 people, on average, while in South America only 25 people
must share that much water. Comparisons with Asia show even more extreme differences The figures
are, however, elusive in terms of real problems in various continents. The situation in Africa, for
instance, is significantly different from the situation in Europe although availability figures are at the
same level.

Growing scarcity at the regional and local levels indicates imbalances between overall availability and
growth in need and demands. These imbalances will have implications far outside the areas under
stress. An important example is the issue of food production. If more and more countries do not have
sufficient amounts of water to grow the food that they need, the deficit must be covered from
somewhere else. And there must be arrangements, agreements and institutions capable of (i)
creating a surplus large enough to cover the growing regional and local deficits, (ii) providing logistical
capacity and procedures for the actual transfer of food and other essentials from surplus to deficit
regions, including the poor, and (iii) guaranteeing a political commitment to transfer food to deficit
areas and the poor, even if people in these areas do not have the means to provide their own supply.

 Make water a "first thing" in development strategies

Water resources must now be recognized as a major determining factor for socio-economic
development (UNCNR, 1996). During the period when human demands on water were low and when
hydrological cycle behavior and the climate were thought to be fairly predictable, water was the last
thing to be considered in the development decision-making process, if it was considered at all. In the
past hydrologists and water managers tended to concentrate on gathering scientific knowledge about
the hydrological cycle, paying little attention to socio-economic and environmental values, to the point
that most development activities naturally assumed that there would always be water available for

Today, due to the increasing pressures on water resources and the recognised variability of the
hydrological cycle and the climate, the position of water in the decision-making process has been
completely reversed (G. Matthwes, personal communication). Now, water must become the one of
the first things to be considered in the context of development and security objectives, including the
day-to-day management of water allocation for socio-economic activities and the preservation of
natural resource capital. It is now imperative that decision-makers in all sectors, and particularly those
responsible for socio-economic planning, financial analysis and security, make development decisions
with explicit attention to water resources.

It is now imperative that decision-makers in all sectors, and particularly those responsible for socio-
economic planning, financial analysis and security, make development decisions with explicit attention
to water resources.
Advantages and Barriers

 Goals - Sustainable Water Management

 Water Management Planning
 New Principle


Understanding these characteristics of water resources has helped water planners to begin rethinking
long-term goals and approaches. It is now widely accepted that criteria for sustainable water use and
management must include more than simply measuring traditional biological or physical indicators.
They must also provide guidance for the individuals and institutions that use and manage water,
resolve conflicts over water, and deal with the unavoidable uncertainties and risks in decision-making.
Accordingly, sustainability goals for water must apply to the role of public, private, governmental and
non-governmental parties. Gleick (1996) provided a broad definition of sustainable water use:

"the use of water that supports the ability of human society to endure and flourish into the indefinite
future without undermining the integrity of the hydrological cycle or the ecological systems that
depend on it".

Table - Sustainability goals for water planning

1. A basic water requirement will be guaranteed to all humans to maintain human health.

2. A basic water requirement will be guaranteed to restore and maintain the health of ecosystems.

3. Water quality will be maintained to meet certain minimum standards. These standards will vary
depending on location and how the water is to be used.

4. Human actions should not be allowed to impair the long-term renewability of freshwater stocks
and flows.

5. Data on water resources availability, use and quality will be collected and made accessible to all

6. Institutional mechanisms will be developed to prevent and resolve conflicts over water.

7. Water planning and decision-making will be democratic; ensuring representation of all affected
parties and fostering direct participation of affected interests.

Source: Gleick (1996)

Advantages and Barriers


New principles for water management and planning must be adopted. These principles began to be
defined nearly 20 years ago at the groundbreaking conference on water at Mar del Plata, Argentina,
and they have been further developed and refined at several important meetings since that time.
Significant advances were made at the 1992 Dublin conference in preparation for the Earth Summit in
Rio de Janeiro. Below, we summarise and elaborate on four principles, which should be used to guide
water decisions into the next century.

Rather than continuing to search for more and more water to meet the anticipated demands, it is time
that we adopt the idea that water is a finite and vulnerable natural resource and that excessive
withdrawal from natural water bodies is exponentially costly and is likely to cause considerable harm
to ecosystems’ functioning and downstream areas generally (Gleick et al. 1995, Postel 1996, Heyns
et al 1997). Rather than thinking in terms of augmenting supply by increasing rate of withdrawal, we --
as society, communities and individuals -- must decide what we want to do with the amounts that can
feasibly be developed.

Identify and meet basic human and ecosystem water needs.

Among the concepts raised nearly 20 years ago during the 1977 Mar del Plata conference was that of
meeting "basic needs". The 1992 Dublin Conference statement reiterated that principle, which was
then strongly reaffirmed during the 1992 UNCED in Rio de Janeiro. International organisation,
national and local governments, and water providers should adopt a basic water requirement (BWR)
standard to meet basic needs and guarantee access to it. Unless this basic resource need is met,
large-scale human misery and suffering will continue and grow in the future, contributing to the risk of
social and military conflict. Priority should be given to the unserved and underserved poor who are a
greatest risk. The basic needs of natural ecosystems must also be identified and met as a top priority.

National food self-sufficiency should give way to the concept of national food self-reliance

The view that all countries must be responsible for their own food production hinders rational solutions
to the problem of true food security. The ultimate goal must be a world that grows sufficient food to
meet the worlds needs somewhere, and the institutions and mechanisms to deliver that food where it
is needed. Thus "global food security" - where enough food is produced and distributed to feed
everyone - is absolutely vital, while the goal of "national food self-sufficiency" - where countries seek
to produce all their food needs domestically - is already unattainable for a number of countries. It will
be increasingly problematic and costly, in financial and environmental terms, for a growing number of
countries. This shift in thinking requires a shift in national water policies, the functioning of global
trade, access to agricultural markets, and the design of import-export policies. The benefits and risks
of relying on international trade to ensure food security are at the heart of the debate between those
alternative food strategies.

In particular, mechanisms to help shift poor water-short countries away from water-intensive
agricultural production must be coupled with the development of robust trade or aid programmes.
Over time, changes in diets and new forms for food production like 'urban agriculture' can also play an
important role in boosting global food security.

Water is an economic good. Its economic values should be given due attention when
apportioning scarce water resources among competing uses, without infringing on the basic
rights to water services for all people at affordable prices

Water must no longer be considered a free good. The recognition of water as an economic good,
which was one of the cornerstones of the Dublin and Rio statements, implies that planners and users
recognize the true value of water in all its competing uses and functions. Recognizing the varying
ability to pay and with due consideration to social objectives, water users must assume a larger
responsibility in recovering the full cost of providing water-related services, including development,
provision, maintenance and treatment costs. Mechanisms should also be set up to help water
marketing and trading, but such mechanisms must include broad social and environmental values not
considered in traditional narrow market approaches. Commercialization of water systems may be a
valuable tool to apportion water to its highest value. But there must also be governmental and social
mechanisms for ensuring affordable basic access to water for people and ecosystems and to provide
legal and institutional framework for the proper functioning of commercial water systems.
Provision of heavily subsidized water services leads to inefficient water use and inappropriate water
allocations. Such subsidies also mean a significant drain on limited public financial and other
resources. In order to meet basic human and environmental needs and to stimulate long-term
sustainable development, it is imperative that the prevailing notion of water as a free good be
changed. Responsible and proper use requires, among other things, that charges and fees reflect the
various costs for water with the due consideration to the significance or water in all aspects of life and
social activity.

Water planning and decision-making should be democratic; ensuring representation of all

affected parties and fostering direct participation of affected interests.

International organisations and official water conference statements for nearly 20 years, going back to
the 1977 Mar del Plata conference have enunciated the principle that water planning and decision-
making should involve the fullest participation by affected parties. The goal was also one of the prime
recommendations from the Dublin meeting.

"Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users,
planners and policy-makers at all levels. The participatory approach...means that decisions are taken
at the lowest appropriate level, with full public consultation and involvement of users in the planning
and implementation of water projects." (ICWE 1992)
Sustainable water planning and use should ensure comprehensive public representation; open and
equitable access to information about the resources, and direct participation of affected interests in
decisions about allocating those resources. The success of policies and programmes for water
management, planning, and use now strongly depends on the extent to which the water users and
various interest groups become actively involved. This requires new institutional arrangements that
are conducive to fostering such involvement and enabling the various stakeholders to play a
constructive role. Ways must also be found to incorporate and protect the interests of future
generations - a fundamental criterion of sustainability as defined by the United Nations in Agenda 21.


Beginning nearly 20 years ago at the groundbreaking Conference on Water Development and
Management at Mar del Plata, Argentina, new principles for water management and planning began
to be described and defined. These principles have been evolving as the nature and magnitude of the
world’s water problems has become evident. Significant advances were made at the 1992 Dublin
conference in preparation for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Below, we mention these principles,
which should be used to guide water decisions into the next century.

 Identify and meet basic human and ecosystem water needs

 National food self-sufficiency should give way to the concept of national food self-
 Water must be treated as an economic good
 Water planning and decision-making should be democratic; ensuring representation of
all affected parties and fostering direct participation of affected interests

Initiatives and success stories, best practices

 South Asia
o The Women of the Night : A story from India
o Taking Matters into her own hand
o Other Initiatives of the civil society with communities in India
o Check Dams in India
 European Union
o European Union’s Telematics Application Programme
 Croatia TNMN
 Danube Accident Emergency Warning System
 The Waternet project
o City towards European Union Compliance Award 2000 - Towards a
Healthy Environment

An initiative launched by the European Union to support local

authorities in Central and Eastern Europe to comply with EU
environmental legislation in four fields, including drinking water and

o The European Union’s environmental legislation

It is known that the Central and Eastern European countries

gradually accede to the European Union (EU). In practice this means
that accession countries have to comply with the EU’s environmental

o Conference on Economic Instruments and Water Policies in Central and

Eastern Europe - Issues and Options

An International Conference at the REC Szentendre (Hungary),

September 28 - 29, 2000

o Use of Telematics in Water Quality Management and Monitoring in


Source: Written by the Water Resources Research Centre in


o For more information, on Environment Telematics for Water and Air

Pollution Management
 Central and Eastern Europe
o Improving Water Supply and Sewerage / Sanitation Services in Europe
and Central Asia
 Africa
o The water Situation in Dakar

Institutions and Norms

See Annexure

o Learning from Experience

o Pinpointing the Need… then Taking Action…
 Alternative Futures

More than any hydrologist or urban planner, it is women in the developing world – the
drawers, carriers and household managers or water – who understand what water scarcity is
and what its implications are for families and communities. What is needed is better
opportunities for women to translate their knowledge and their energies into action and
personal control – over natural resources such as water, and over their own lives. Real
opportunities for women – in education, in economic and political life, and in family decision-
making – could vastly improve the management of water and women’s own well-being.
Women also need the opportunity to make decisions about their own fertility and the capacity
to put those decisions into effect. Efforts to improve the lives, health and status of women can
be justified on their own merits, and together they would act powerfully to reduce fertility.

Over the last 30 years, a number of counties have demonstrated that rapid declines in birth
rates are possible through a combination of relatively inexpensive measures, especially
widespread provision of high quality, voluntary family planning services.

Because record numbers of people will be moving into their childbearing years over the next
two decades, the impact of lower birthrates will not be fully felt until well into the next century.
But the momentum of population growth is such that policies and programs contributing to
eventual population stabilization must be initiated today - at the same time that improved
water management technologies, programs and projects are being developed to meet higher
future levels of water demand.

Substantial worldwide experience has demonstrated that making high quality, voluntary family
planning widely available to men and women of reproductive age can bring down fertility rates
independently of other social and economic factors. Recent research also suggests how
powerfully family planning programs work in concert with improved opportunities for women –
especially secondary-school education for girls. Efforts in family planning and education may
seem far from the concerns of hydrologist and engineers, but they may matter just as much –
and over the long term even more – to the future of water availability around the world.

If sustainable development is not a mere platitude, if the nations of the world take seriously
the Earth Summit’s charge that natural resources must be used in ways that ensure their
availability to future generations, then early stabilization of population size is vital to any
strategy. We need to develop water supplies in ways that assure every human being
abundant, renewable quantities of clean and healthful water for life, prosperity and well-being.
And we need to stabilise our numbers at a level that respects not just the quantities of water
we can produce today, but that the earth can provide forever.


The Sustainable Development Communications Network (formerly Spinning the Web) is a group
of leading non-governmental organisations working together to find ways of using the Internet to meet
the goals of sustainable development.

With our new name comes a renewed commitment to delivering sustainable development information
and integrating the Internet with traditional communications media. The Network members co-operate

 develop new tools and content about sustainable development

 build capacity for using electronic communications more effectively
 promote member information
 share experiences about managing sustainable development communications

Core Members (responsible for developing the module)

Development Alternatives (DA - Lead Role)

The Development Alternatives family of organizations brings together traditional knowledge and
modern science. It designs appropriate technologies and institutions to create sustainable livelihoods.
Its activities focus on basic human needs: water, shelter, energy, sanitation, environmental resources
and employment.

In the field of water

Development Alternatives has worked extensively over the past fifteen years to develop sustainable
water management initiatives in both rural and urban India. These have been from helping poor
communities build check-dams in the Bundelkhand, to teaching school children how to analyse water
quality through the CLEAN Program, striving to improve the livelihood of Indians by promoting access
to safe and abundant water sources.
Development Alternatives has worked extensively over the past twenty years to develop sustainable
water management initiatives in both rural and urban India. From helping poor communities build
checkdams in the Bundelkhand to teaching schoolchildren how to analyze water quality through the
CLEAN - India Program, we strive to improve the livelihood of Indians by promoting access to safe
and abundant water resources.

Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA)

ENDA is a non-profit international organization, based in Dakar, Senegal, with branches around the
world which seek to promote sustainable development in the developing world. Through its projects
against poverty, and its research, training and exchange programs, it strives to integrate
environmental, economic and cultural relationships in activities to meet the needs and objectives of
grassroots groups.

Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC)

REC is a non-partisan, non-advocacy, not-for-profit organization. REC helps solve environmental
problems in Central and Eastern Europe. It encourages co-operation among non-governmental
organizations, governments, businesses and other environmental stakeholders by supporting the free
exchange of information and by promoting public participation in decision-making.

The REC was established in 1990 by the United States, the European Commission and Hungary.
Today, the REC is legally based on a Charter signed by the governments of 25 countries and the
European Commission, and on an International Agreement with the Government of Hungary. The
REC has its headquarters in Szentendre, Hungary and Local Offices in each of its 15 beneficiary CEE
countries, which are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia,
Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, FYR Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Yugoslavia.

It’s activities related to water management

The REC carries out its activities in a variety of different environmental fields, based on its
stakeholders’ needs. (NGOs, governments, businesses, donor organizations etc.) While the REC’s
activities change with time, the main focus remains supporting cooperation in the environmental field,
primarily on an international level and among different stakeholders. In light of this, the REC supports
water management in Central and Eastern Europe by providing support and help to constituents who
actually implement the activities. (In other words, the REC does not do environmental fieldwork,
instead it enables other stakeholders to increase their capacities.)

For example, the REC’s Information Program will answer information requests related to water
management. Besides this e-mail/telephone "hot-line", the REC has a public library and a Web Site
with all its publications on-line as well as searchable databases. (Examples include directories of
environmental experts, governmental and non-governmental organisations, media contacts, funding
sources for NGOs, environmental business contacts etc.)

For other examples of related REC projects, please click here (link to REC projects in the water
module). For more information on the REC please visit

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

SEI is an independent, international policy research institute specialising in sustainable development

and environmental issues. SEI conducts a comprehensive research, consulting and training program
that focuses on the links between ecological, social and economic systems at global, regional,
national and local levels. It works out of four centres and has a network of associates in some 25

Recognising the universal significance of water for environment and development, water has always
been a priority program at SEI since its founding in 1989, a time when the importance of the issue
was not adequately appreciated. SEI has brought a systems approach to understanding the many
interacting dimensions of the problem of the sustainable use of freshwater, helping to move the issue
to the centre of the international discussion of sustainable development.

In the conventional paradigm, water development was a problem of engineering, hydrology and large
project construction. SEI advances new approaches for integrated assessment of water resources
that stresses water demands as well as supply, water allocation among competing users, and
environmental requirements. Water sustainability assessment also requires a scenario approach for
taking a long view that considers futures with fundamentally different development and environmental
assumptions and policies. Using integrated scenarios, diverse stakeholders can engage in informed
dialogues around balancing trade-offs and devising appropriate actions. The Institute's WEAP System
provides a flexible and user-friendly computerized framework for this process. WEAP is used to
represent current water conditions in a given area and to explore a wide range of demand- and
supply-side options for balancing environmental and development requirements and for allocating
scarce water resources