Water resource are the indispensable basis for development, food, and health. Unfortunately, water resource are becoming ever scarcer and more polluted. The concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) offers solutions to the water crisis in linking water to other vital resources and viewing the whole water cycle together with human interventions as the basis for sustainable water management.

It is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health. Worldwide, water policy and management are beginning to reflect the fundamentally interconnected nature of hydrological resources, and IWRM is emerging as an accepted alternative to the sector-by-sector, top-down management style that has dominated in the past.

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use; contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems; if water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops. There are plenty more examples of the basic theme that unregulated use of scarce water resources is wasteful and inherently unsustainable.

Dublin Principles

IWRM strategies are based on the following principles:

1. Multiple Uses of Water
Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment. This is supported by the quantitative review of global water cycle, which suggests a fixed annual volume of water. Fresh water is a natural resource that needs to be maintained by ensuring effective management of water resources. Water is needed for different purposes, functions and services, therefore, water management should be integrated and take account of both demand for and threat to this resource.

This principle assigns a river basin or a catchment area to be a water management unit, which is the so-called hydrographical approach to water management

2. Participatory Approach

Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels. Local communities must help make decisions about their resources.

Water is a resource that affects all. True participation is ensured only when all stakeholders are involved in the decision making. A participatory approach involving all stakeholders is the best strategy to achieve long-term accord and consensus. Participation means taking responsibility for and acknowledging impact of this sector on other water users and water ecosystems as well as committing to increasingly effective use and sustainable development of water resources.

It should be noted that participation does not necessarily result in consensus, therefore, arbitrage and other conflict resolution mechanisms should be ensured. Governments should work to ensure participation of all stakeholders, in particular, vulnerable groups of the population. It should be admitted that today poor groups of the population will benefit least from a mere participatory environment without enhanced participation mechanisms. Decentralizing decision making to the lowest level is the only strategy to enhance participation.

3. Role of Women

The role of women in collecting, distributing and managing water must be recognised. It is generally accepted that women play a key role in the collection and safeguarding of water for domestic purposes and, in many instances, agricultural use. At the same time, women play a less powerful role than men in the management, problem analysis and decision making related to water. IWRM demands the role of women to be acknowledged.

In order to ensure full and effective participation of women at all levels of decision making, account should be taken of approaches that public agencies use to assign social, economic and cultural functions to men and women. There is an important link between gender equality and sustainable water management. Participation of men and women playing a decision making role at all levels of water management can expedite the achievement of sustainability, while integrated and sustainable water resources management greatly contributes to gender equality by improving access of both women and men to water and water-related services, thus serving their daily needs.

4. Holistic Management

Both the supply of and the demand for water should be considered when creating management strategies. Water is a public good and has a social and economic value in all its competing uses. Within this principle, it is vital to recognize first the basic right of all human beings to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price. Managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources. As soon as water is collected from a source, it has a price as an economic and social good. Past failure to effectively manage water resources is associated with failure to recognize the economic value of water. Water cost and charge are two different things that should be clearly differentiated.

As a regulating or economic mean, water cost in alternative uses is important to efficiently distribute water as a scarce resource. Water charge is used as an economic tool to support vulnerable groups and influence their water saving and efficient use behaviors by providing incentives to manage demand, cost recovery and readiness of individual users to pay for extra water management services.

Recognizing water as an economic good is a key decision-making tool to distribute water among different sectors of the economy and different users within sectors. It is particularly important when water supply cannot be increased.

5. Multiple Integrated Perspectives

Water is an economic, social and environmental good. Integrated water resources management is based on the equitable and efficient management and sustainable use of water. It recognises that water is an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good, whose quantity and quality determine the nature of its utilisation.