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C2.1 National integrated water resources plans


Policies and decisions regarding water resources management flow are determined at the national level. National governments and water agencies influence international co-operation on transboundary water bodies. They also develop the national framework of policies, legislation and institutions within which water resources management takes place both at basin and sub-basin level (see A1). Depending on basin boundaries and scales, nations are often part of international basins, as seen in the Nile River Basin and Mekong River Basin. At the same time these nations have basins which are fully within national borders and are thus managed at the national level. The boundaries of groundwater aquifers seldom coincide with those of the river basins. The management of such aquifers often requires collaboration across national river basin boundaries and in some cases international co-operation is required.

A National IWRM plan will be set within this geographical and political context, and will take into account all activities and developments requiring water or influencing the water resource. Among these are ecological requirements, water supply and sanitation, irrigation, land use and forestry, fisheries, hydropower and industrial use.

A good IWRM plan includes a prioritised series of programmes for implementing the framework. Implementation of the management plan is a prerequisite to the implementation of a development plan and ensures that development takes place in a balanced fashion with due consideration of the national policies and strategies – operational aspects are explicitly addressed.

The formulation of a National IWRM Plan follows a distinct four phase approach:

  • Identify the range of water resources issues that occurs across the country and assess their severity, mutual dependence and frequency of occurrence. A “user requirement issue” results from an inadequate matching of user requirements (demand) and water resources availability and quality (supply) while an “impact issue” derives from human activities (which negatively affect the quantity or quality of the water resource) or from natural causes in the case of floods and droughts. International issues should also be taken into account, for instance upstream-downstream issues;
  • Identify the management interventions at all levels – national, basin, local – which are necessary to address the issues identified. From the interventions required identify the management functions at each level. Management functions include such items as policy development, planning and co-ordination, water allocation, discharge regulation, monitoring, enforcement and information dissemination. Transboundary problems may require concerted international interventions;
  • Analyse the present institutional capacities at all levels – national, basin, local – and examine the potentials and constraints relating to the issues to be dealt with and functions to be undertaken. The capacities relate to factors such as the efficiency of institutional structures and the adequacy of human and financial resources as well as the adequacy of policies and legislation. International structures and agreements may be required to supplement the national institutions (see B1 and B2).
  • Prepare strategies for the development of any deficient parts of the framework of national policies, legislation and regulations for IWRM, for the development of institutional roles that allow a co-ordinated implementation of IWRM and the required management instruments and associated skills. International strategies have to be developed in collaboration with other riparian nations.

Lessons learned

  • A realistic IWRM plan requires the design of functions, structures and procedures to take into account the financial and human resource constraints, the existing institutional structures, the management capacity and the capacity for change.
  • Structures should be designed as the need arises, should be flexible enough to meet immediate needs and should leave open the possibility for expansion whenever appropriate.
  • Multi-stakeholder involvement in the decision processes are essential for the acceptability of the outcome.
  • Ecosystem requirements and water quality management are often largely neglected but need to be given full emphasis in the planning process.
  • Decentralised water resources management is often part of water reforms but implementation is often constrained by central agencies’ reluctance to share power and resources.

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