Integrated water resources management

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Integrated water resources management (IWRM) has been defined by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as "a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems".


The development of IWRM was particularly recommended in the final statement of the ministers at the International Conference on Water and the Environment in 1992 (so called the Dublin principles). This concept aims to promote changes in practices which are considered fundamental to improved water resource management. In the current definition, IWRM rests upon three principles that together act as the overall framework:

  1. Social equity: ensuring equal access for all users (particularly marginalised and poorer user groups) to an adequate quantity and quality of water necessary to sustain human well-being.
  2. Economic efficiency: bringing the greatest benefit to the greatest number of users possible with the available financial and water resources.
  3. Ecological sustainability: requiring that aquatic ecosystems are acknowledged as users and that adequate allocation is made to sustain their natural functioning.

IWRM practices depend on context; at the operational level, the challenge is to translate the agreed principles into concrete action.


Operationally, IWRM approaches involve applying knowledge from various disciplines as well as the insights from diverse stakeholders to devise and implement efficient, equitable and sustainable solutions to water and development problems. As such, IWRM is a comprehensive, participatory planning and implementation tool for managing and developing water resources in a way that balances social and economic needs, and that ensures the protection of ecosystems for future generations. Water’s many different uses — for agriculture, for healthy ecosystems, for people and livelihoods — demands coordinated action. An IWRM approach is consequently cross-sectoral, aiming to be an open, flexible process, and bringing all stakeholders to the table to set policy and make sound, balanced decisions in response to specific water challenges faced.

An IWRM approach focuses on three basics and aims at avoiding a fragmented approach of water resources management by considering the following aspects:

  1. Enabling Environment: A proper enabling environment is essential to both ensure the rights and assets of all stakeholders (individuals as well as public and private sector organizations and companies), and also to protect public assets such as intrinsic environmental values.
  2. Roles of Institutions: Institutional development is critical to the formulation and implementation of IWRM policies and programmes. Failure to match responsibilities, authority and capacities for action are all major sources of difficulty with implementing IWRM.
  3. Management Instruments: The management instruments for IWRM are the tools and methods that enable and help decision-makers to make rational and informed choices between alternative actions.

Some of the cross-cutting conditions that are also important to consider when implementing IWRM are:

  • Political will and commitment
  • Capacity development
  • Adequate investment, financial stability and sustainable cost recovery
  • Monitoring and evaluation

IWRM should be viewed as a process rather than a one-shot approach - one that is long-term and iterative rather than linear in nature. As a process which seeks to shift water development and management systems from their currently unsustainable forms, IWRM has no fixed beginnings or endings.

Furthermore, there is not one correct administrative model. The art of IWRM lies in selecting, adjusting and applying the right mix of these tools for a given situation.


  • Rahaman, M.M. & Varis, O. 2005. Integrated water resources management: evolution, prospects and future challenges. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 1(1):15-21. Published online April 12, 2005.
  • Biswas,A.K.,Varis,O. & Tortajada, C. (Eds.) 2005. Integrated Water Resources Management in South and Southeast Asia. New Delhi : Oxford University Press.
  • Rahaman, M.M., Varis, O. & Kajander, T. 2004. EU Water Framework Directive Vs. Integrated Water Resources Management: The Seven Mismatches. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 20(4): 565-575.
  • KUENZER, C., CAMPBELL, I., ROCH, M., LEINENKUGEL, L., VO QUOC, T., and S. DECH: 2012: Understanding the Impacts of Hydropower Developments in the context of Upstream-Downstream Relations in the Mekong River Basin. Sustainability Science, Springer, DOI 10.1007/s11625-012-0195
  • GWP/INBO (2009), Handbook for IWRM in Basins [1]
  • GWP (2009), Triggering change in water policies [2]
  • GWP (2004): Catalyzing Change: Handbook for developing IWRM and water efficiency strategies, [3]
  • GWP (2004): IWRM and Water Efficiency Plans by 2005: Why, What and How?, [4]
  • GWP (2000): Integrated Water Resources Management, TAC Background Paper no. 4 [5]

See also

External links