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Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management: Policy Options for Consideration by the Commission on Sustainable Development and Policy-Makers: An Overview
  3. Key Recommendations for an Integrated Approach to Freshwater Resources Management
    1. General
    2. Capacity Building
    3. Information management
    4. Environment and development
    5. Economics and finance
    6. Participation and institutions
    7. International co-operation

    Annex I: Water as a Key Resource in Sustainable Development Report of Working Group 1

    Annex II: Freshwater Ecosystems and Water Quality Report of Working Group 2

    Annex III: Economic and Financial Issues: Report of Working Group 3

    Annex IV. Participation and Institutions for Integrated Water Resources Management Report of Working Group 4

Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management

I. Introduction

1. The Expert Group Meeting was hosted by the Government of Zimbabwe and organised by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The main objective of the Meeting was to provide an expert contribution to the forthcoming deliberations on "Strategic Approaches for Freshwater Management" that will take place in the Ad hoc Working Group of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (New York, 23-29 February, 1998) and, later, during the sixth Session of the CSD (New York, 20 April - 1 May, 1998).

2. The Meeting was Co-Chaired by Mr. Robert Ainscow of the United Kingdom and Mr. Sibekile Mtetwa of Zimbabwe. At the opening of the Meeting, the Honorable Mrs. Joyce Mujuru, Minister of Rural Resources and Water Development of Zimbabwe, delivered a statement of behalf of the Host Country. The Meeting was attended by more than 170 experts from developed and developing countries and countries with economies in transition, international organisations from both within and outside of the United Nations, and from the non-governmental organisations and major groups of the civil society.

3. In addition to the Plenary meetings, four Working Groups were established in order to ensure an in-depth consideration of a number of specific themes on the agenda, namely "I. Water as the Key Resource in Sustainable Development", "II. Freshwater Ecosystems and Water Quality", "III. Economic and Financial Issues", and "IV. Participation and Institutions for Integrated Water Resources Management". The deliberations in each of the Working Groups were led by two Moderators as follows: Working Group I - Mr. James Bruce (Canada) and Ms. Krishna Singh (India); Working Group II - Mr. Ingvar Andersson (Sweden) and Mr. Armando Bertranou (Argentina); Working Group III - Mr. Torkil Jonch- Clausen (Denmark) and Mr. Sékou Touré (Côte d'Ivoire); and Working Group IV - Mr. Mohammed Jellali (Morocco) and Mr. Jean Claude Vial (France).

4. The participants noted a number of recent or forthcoming regional and international activities related to freshwater, in particular the adoption of the Cape Town Declaration of December 1997 and the preparations for the Ministerial meeting on Water Resources and Sustainable Development to take place in Paris in March 1998.

5. The participants expressed their appreciation to the Government and people of Zimbabwe for hosting the meeting and the hospitality extended to its participants. They also expressed their gratitude to the sponsors of the meeting - the Governments of Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and to the European Commission.

6. The report of the Meeting is presented as the co-chairmen's summary prepared in collaboration with the moderators. It attempts to assess - in broad terms - the overall outcome of the Meeting and to draw a number of key conclusions from the discussions held. The co-chairmen's summary is accompanied by the reports of the four Working Groups (Annex I - IV). Thy outline in much greater detail the main recommendations and proposals made by the participating experts regarding actions required - at the local, national and international levels - in order to expedite the implementation of Chapter 18 and other water-related provisions of Agenda 21. Some of the proposals and recommendations included in the report may not enjoy the support by all of the participating experts and may therefore need to be further discussed in the future, in particular in the context of the policy dialogue on the strategic approaches to freshwater management under the aegis of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

II. Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management: Policy Options for Consideration by the Commission on Sustainable Development and Policy-Makers: An Overview

7. The rationale for sustainable development and the links between development and environment were clearly articulated in Agenda 21. The specific proposals concerning freshwater in Chapter 18 and other related provisions continue to be a basis for action. Since 1992, some countries have made progress on a path towards implementing the recommended actions at national and local levels through the adoption of integrated approaches to freshwater management. There are a number of areas, outlined in this report, which continue to build on Agenda 21. Nonetheless, there are other areas where more strategic actions are still needed in order to adapt to continually changing social and environmental circumstances and to address fundamental concerns of poverty alleviation, public health, food security and energy generation.

8. Demands for freshwater are driven by increases in population growth and sectoral pressures for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses. The sectoral demands include agriculture (irrigation and drainage), the provision of domestic water supply and sanitation, industry, energy generation, environmental requirements, amenity and tourism. The nature of these demands are further complicated by changes in patterns of consumption as a result of industrialisation, rural/urban shifts, migration, and unaccounted for water and are set against clear limits and variability in the available resource. It is increasingly clear that unprecedented demands for water supplies are resulting in continued degradation of the resource base and intensified competition for high quality water. A characteristic of these stresses is that all their components are not equally distributed in time and space.

9. There is evidence of progress in improving some aspects of freshwater resources management since 1992. Marked improvements in water quality have occurred in a number of river basins where public pressures for action have been strong. Lower discharge of toxic substances have reduced public health risks and improved the habitats of fish and wildlife in some river basins. New technologies and water demand management have resulted in improved efficiency in water use in irrigation, industrial processing and municipal supplies. Improved soil and water conservation through the explicit linkage of water with land and forestry policies has halted land degradation in vulnerable landscapes. Institutions for integrated water management have been strengthened in several developing countries along with the adoption of new or improved water policies, information systems and action plans resulting in improvements in water use efficiencies, water quality and related ecosystems. Industrialised countries are replacing outmoded policy and regulatory frameworks as circumstances and socio-economic circumstances change. Several initiatives toward comprehensive and participatory river basin management, including international river basins, are replacing purely administrative and technical solutions. International networks in support of integrated water resources management have been created.

10. However, while many lessons have been learned, overall progress has been neither sufficient nor comprehensive enough to reduce general trends of increasing water shortages, deteriorating water quality and growing stresses on freshwater ecosystems. There is a compelling case for integrating these approaches to freshwater management into national economic frameworks as keys elements in policies for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Socio-economic productivity can be enhanced and environmental integrity conserved as a result of this integration.

11. Integrated water resources management - within a national economic framework - is essential for achieving efficient and equitable allocation of water resources and thus for promoting sustainable economic development and poverty alleviation. The adoption of an integrated approach to environmentally sustainable management of water resources is also fundamental for protecting freshwater ecosystems, water quality and human health. At the same time, the financial sustainability of the water sector - together with policies for financial burden sharing and for ensuring access by the poor - are a prerequisite for the successful implementation of integrated water resources management. In order to be effectively implemented, integrated water resources management should also include institutional and legal capacity building, human resources development and participatory approaches. The basis for a strategic approach to integrated freshwater management can be founded on a set of key elements which bring together all the relevant parties and their particular socio-economic and environmental concerns that are bound by freshwater.

12. Most decisions and actions related to water take place at local, sub-national and national level since physical and socio-economic settings are diverse. However, local actions may have national and even regional implications for related areas of natural resource management.

13. There is much to be done, but an integrated approach is the way forward since it offers means of reconciling competing demands with dwindling supplies and a framework in which hard choices can be made and where effective operational actions can be taken. It is valuable for all countries and at all stages of development.

14. The view of the Expert Group meeting was that the future will present many challenges for the sustainable development of freshwater resources. Nevertheless, the judgement of the experts was that, in spite of the current serious concerns regarding scarcity and degradation of the quality of freshwater resources in large areas of the world, water need not become a limiting factor for sustainable development and human welfare. A series of crises, potentially with regional and even global implications, can be averted if vigorous action is taken now toward an integrated approach to freshwater resources management. Key recommendations in this regard are set out below.

III. Key Recommendations for an Integrated Approach to Freshwater Resources Management

A. General

15. Sustainability. There is a need to recognise water as a social and economic good with a vital role in the satisfaction of basic human needs, food security, poverty alleviation and the protection of ecosystems. The principle of sustainability must underpin an integrated approach to managing freshwater resources in order to maintain and extend the benefits derived from natural freshwater systems.

16. Water policy and integrated management. As recommended in Agenda 21, it is essential for all countries to develop national, and where relevant sub-national, water policies and continually review these policies as circumstances change. Fundamental to this process is the concept of an integrated approach to the planning, allocation, development, and management of freshwater resources at the level of river basins and aquifers. The basic management unit should be designated in these policies as river basins and aquifer units.

17. Management of the Resource. The management of the demand for, and the allocation of, water resources should be based on principles of equity and efficient use to promote sustainable development including health, the satisfaction of basic human needs, food security and environmental protection.

B. Capacity Building

18. Capacity Building. Institutional and human capacities at national and local levels will need substantial strengthening if an integrated approach is to be implemented. The need to strengthen capacity at local levels is especially strong; the training of local entrepreneurs has an important role in implementing actions. There is also a need to promote the use of indigenous technologies and knowledge, in addition to the transfer of appropriate technologies.

C. Information management

19. Information Management. There is a need to finance, establish and maintain effective data collection and dissemination, information management systems and research in order to provide a sound basis for policy formulation, planning and investment decisions and operational management of freshwater resources. The collection of all freshwater resource and related socio-economic and environmental data and information needed for policy decisions, planning and management action and monitoring, should have a high and continued priority.

20. Indicators of Progress. Governments need to adopt, implement and monitor national water-related indicators of progress in achieving integrated water resources management, including water quality objectives. This should take account of the CSD work in this area.

D. Environment and development

21. Ecosystem Integration. The conservation of freshwater and related ecosystems is vital to sustainable development. These ecosystems are themselves users, water regulators and providers of freshwater-based resources (including fisheries). It is therefore necessary to promote an ecosystem approach in integrated water resources planning, development and management within the framework of river basin and aquifer systems.

22. Human Interactions with the Environment. There is a need to ensure that effective local and national systems are in a position to bring about productive and sustainable interactions between human activities and the ecological functioning of freshwater systems and to minimise downstream impacts including estuarine and marine environments and to reduce losses from droughts and floods.

23. Water Quality and Environmental Sanitation. There is a need to safeguard water quality as regards human health, productive uses of water and the protection of freshwater ecosystems. There is a need to implement measures, including sanitation programmes which have been notably neglected, to safeguard water quality recognising that poor environmental sanitation is the leading cause of human sickness in developing countries.

E. Economics and finance

24. Economics. Water planning and management needs to be integrated into the national economy, recognising the vital role of water for the satisfaction of basic human needs, food security, poverty alleviation, ecosystem functioning and taking into account special conditions of non-monetary sectors of the economy.

25. Allocation. Water needs to be considered as a finite and vulnerable resource, and a social and economic good, and the costs and benefits of different allocation - social, economic and environmental- need to be assessed. The use of various economic instruments is important in guiding allocation decisions.

26. Accountability. It is essential to ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability in water resources management as a precondition for sustainable financial management.

27. Covering Costs. All costs must be covered if the provision of water is to be viable. Subsidies for specific groups, usually the poorest, may be judged desirable within some countries. Wherever possible, the level of such subsidies and who benefits from them should be transparent. Information on performance indicators, procurement procedures, pricing, cost estimates, revenues and subsidies needs to be provided in order to ensure transparency and accountability, to maintain confidence and improve investment capacities in the sector.

28. Financial resources. Increased financial resources will need to be mobilised for the sustainable development of freshwater resources if the broader aims for sustainable economic and social development are to be realised, particularly in relation to poverty alleviation. Evidence that existing resources are used optimally will help mobilise additional finance from national and international sources, both public and private.

F. Participation and institutions

29. Participation. There is a need to ensure the implementation of participatory approaches to freshwater resources management based on the recognition of the social and economic values of freshwater and its related ecosystems. Programmes to raise awareness of the issues, particularly among youth, are important. It is important that stakeholders at all levels be involved in a transparent approach for policy making, planning and management, as a "bottom up" and "top-down" process.

30. Legislative and Regulatory Framework. A legislative and regulatory framework should be established in order to facilitate integrated water resources management strategies and to ensure that the capacity exists to apply the legislation and to enforce regulations. Such framework should be conducive to private sector investment and the involvement of local service providers.

31. Institutional Development. There is a need to design and adapt institutions to effect an integrated approach to policy analysis and to integrated water resources management for specific environmental and socio-economic settings. The role of Government needs to be clearly defined, with a distinction between the functions of standard and regulation setting and control on the one hand, and the direct management and provision of services on the other, and between the role of government at all levels and the roles of the private sector and other stakeholders.

32. Partnership. The establishment of an enabling environment should be promoted, with specific mechanisms, that facilitate partnerships between public, private and community organisations, local authorities, NGOs and all public and private actors.

33. Enhancing the role of women. Women should have an equal role with regard to water resources management at local, national and international levels.

G. International co-operation

34. Support for national action. International co-operation and partnership in support of national actions are essential for achieving sustainable development, particularly in the water sector. This includes the need for mobilising and providing new and additional financial resources to developing countries as set out in Agenda 21, as well as the need for enhancing international co-operation is such areas as capacity building, transfer of technology, research and information exchange.

35. Promoting a common approach. The United Nations system should play an active role in harmonising, at international and national levels, the recommendations being made to countries for integrated water resources management strategies.

36. Information exchange. Governments should promote vital information exchange and dissemination through the greater use of Internet and other modern means of communication.

37. Donor-recipient dialogue. Governments and the international community need to strengthen consultation mechanisms aimed at improving donor/recipient dialogues for the mobilisation of financial resources in a well-targeted and predictable manner, based on national action plans with a special focus on integrated water resources management which recognises the need of the poorest communities.

38. Regional consultations on drought and flood preparedness. There is a need to establish or strengthen mechanisms for regional consultations on drought and flood preparedness and early warning systems and mitigation plans at local and national levels, regional emergency funds and/or collective insurance programmes. At the international level, there is a need to maintain support of these activities following the close of the IDNDR (1999).

39. International Watercourses. Riparian States are encouraged to co-operate among each other on matters related to transboundary water resources, building on existing agreements principles, arrangements, instruments and programmes of action, taking into account the interests of all riparian States concerned. Such efforts, upon common requests of concerned States, may need to be supported through international co-operation.

40. Water-Related International Conventions and Programmes for Action. In the formulation and implementation of integrated water resources management policies and programmes, there is a need to take into account actions to implement a number of existing Conventions and Programmes of Action relevant to freshwater, in particular conventions on Biodiversity, Desertification, Climate Change, Wetlands (Ramsar) and International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as well as the Global Programme of Action for the Protection for the Marine Environment from Land-Based Sources of Pollution.

41. The Expert Group Meeting invites the Commission on Sustainable Development to give consideration to the general conclusions and recommendations outlined above, together with more detailed proposals for action contained in the annexed reports of the four Working Groups. It is hoped that the CSD will support these recommendations and proposals for action, thus promoting an integrated approach to freshwater management at all levels while ensuring that national action is supported through adequate means of international co-operation.

42. Furthermore, the Expert Group Meeting recommends that the CSD invites countries to submit, by 2002, information concerning their national water policies and related plans and progress in their implementation.

Annex I: Water as a Key Resource in Sustainable Development Report of Working Group 1

Annex II: Freshwater Ecosystems and Water Quality Report of Working Group 2

Annex III: Economic and Financial Issues: Report of Working Group 3

Annex IV. Participation and Institutions for Integrated Water Resources Management Report of Working Group 4