UNEP Report Deems Water Reforms Successful

nairoBi, Kenya

Countries that have adopted internationally-agreed approaches to integrated water resources management (IWRM) in many cases enjoyed significant benefits, particularly in potable water access, health and water efficiency in agriculture, according to a survey released this month by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Over 80 percent of the 130-plus countries surveyed have reformed their water laws over the past 20 years in response to pressure on resources from growing populations, urbanization and climate change, UNEP said.

Around 90 percent of countries reported positive impacts after introducing IWRM reforms. However, the survey of national governments found slower progress on irrigation, rainwater harvesting and funding for freshwater ecosystem services.

The survey is intended to provide background information for the Rio +20 conference this June -- IWRM was strongly backed by the original Rio Earth Summit in 1992 as part of the Agenda 21 sustainable development initiative.

It asked for government feedback on issues such as governance, infrastructure, financing and other water management issues, in order to judge the level of success in moving towards IWRM.

The survey revealed that a majority of countries feel that water-related risks and competition for resources have increased over the past 20 years, and most countries rate domestic water supply as their highest priority for water resources management.

In addition, most countries reported a growing trend in financing for water resources development, while acknowledging that there are still obstacles to implementing reforms. Progress on water efficiency also lagged behind other water management reforms; less than half of national reforms address this issue.

On an individual country basis there have been notable successes– for example, Estonia reported that introducing water charges and pollution taxes has helped to contribute to improved water efficiency and reduced pollution loads in the Baltic Sea, and Ghana has rehabilitated more than 40 percent of its irrigation systems to enable more efficient water use and productivity.

However, many countries highlighted the need for increased capacity building, investment and infrastructure development to allow full IWRM implementation.

When it came to the various countries’ views on key issues, infrastructure development and financing were top concerns at 79 percent and 78 percent, respectively. Climate change was seen as a priority by 70 percent of countries surveyed, and 76 percent of countries felt that threats from this source had increased since 1992.

The survey also set a series of proposed targets and recommendations to feed into Rio +20. These include:

  • Each country should develop set targets and time frames for preparing and implementing actions and a financing strategy for IWRM;
  • A global reporting mechanism should be established for national water resources management;
  • More effort should be put into increasing finance and improving the institutional framework for water resources management, focusing on low Human Development Index countries.