Jan 5, 2015

Integrated Water Resources Management and its Contribution Towards Achieving the MDGs

The interface of water resources and development and the achievement of the MDGs is complex and includes many specific linkages.  Examples of the linkages between water and achieving the MDGs are emphasized in the previous section.  This wide array of important linkages that present many synergies, explains why pursuing each goal separately reduces the complex process of human and economic development to a series of conflicting, and unsustainable interventions.  In addition, the interface of water resources and the achievement of the MDGs occurs at several different institutional levels, explaining why water resource policies in many countries have evolved in a fragmented and piecemeal fashion.  Under this framework, policy objectives have been set without consideration of the implications for other water users and without consultation across sectoral and institutional boundaries.  This traditional approach to water management has, in general, proven to be an ineffective policy strategy due to the fact that these problems fall outside of the normal purview of the agencies tasked with addressing them and, thus, require cooperation from multiple sectors.  In order to optimize water resources for development and the MDGs, countries must overcome constraints through appropriate investments and management arrangements within broad planning and policy iniciatives.

Saleth and Dinar (1999, 2004) also emphasize that institutional changes are needed to improve water management since previous institutions were developed during a water surplus era.  Moreover, as Global Water Partnership (2000) points out, water management is usually left to top-down institutions, the legitimacy and effectiveness of which have increasingly been questioned. However, it is important to highlight that the effectiveness of these sectoral improvements will be affected by the country’s institutional and  macroeconomic environment since many of these reforms depend on economic, ecological, and political constraints (Saleth and Dinar, 2004) and reflect the fact that institutional reform is path dependent (North, 1990). 

An IWRM approach, defined as a process that “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” (Global Water Partnership website), provides an opportunity to attack these problems more effectively, identifying root causes and solutions that lie outside of any one specific sectoral area and focusing on investment as well as management issues. IWRM is not a reform whose objective is just to achieve a more efficient management of water as a resource, it considers reforms whose objectives are to improve governance and financial systems at all levels, in order to meet each country’s development goals.

Thus, an IWRM approach considers the diverse linkages between water resources and the achievement of the MDGs, ensuring that investments across sectors work together, producing greater returns by exploiting the synergies between the linkages.  In addition, the involvement of multiple sectors highlights opportunities that are often hidden by sectoral thinking. For example, examining domestic water and sanitation needs along with food security issues generates opportunities to provide communities with water for domestic and food production purposes at a lower additional cost compared with traditional water planning approaches (Global Water Partnership, 2004a).  IWRM also helps reduce the negative consequences of undesired environmental impacts associated with water development and the costs associated to the environmental damage. For example, the annual cost of mitigating the effects of land and water degradation in Asia associated to water development strategies has been estimated at US$35 billion (Global Water Partnership, 2004a). Finally, since IWRM considers in an integrated manner social, economic and environmental goals, it promotes a more strategic and socially efficient water allocation than traditional approaches driven individual sectors interests.  The UN Task Force on water and sanitation, based on the advantages of IWRM, is convinced the MDGs as a whole will not be met unless an IWRM Plan, which considers deliberate planning and investment in sound water resources management and infrastructure, is implemented (Lenton, 2005).

1.  Saleth, R.M. and Dinar, A. 1999. Evaluating water institutions and water sector performance Tech. paper 447, World Bank, Washington D.C. Available at: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/1999/09/21/000094946_99090305381648/Rendered/PDF/multi_page.pdf

2.    Saleth, R.M. and Dinar, A. 2004. The institutional economics of water: A cross country analysis of institutions and performance Edward Elgar, Mass. 398 pp.

3. Global Water Partnership. 2004a. Catalyzing Change: A Handbook for Developing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and Water Efficiency Strategies. Technical Advisory Committee, Global Water Partnership, Stockholm, Sweden. www.gwpforum.org

4.   Lenton, R. 2005. Water Resources Management and the Millenium Development Goals. Presentation at the Seminar Water and the Millenium Development Goals: It’s Contribution to Development. Organized by IDB. Okinawa, Japan, April 6, 2005.

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