Blog from the World Water Forum VI: Count in Nature to Better Share Water

Isabelle Fauconnier, IUCN Water Policy and Sustainability Advisor. As I reflect on the rich sessions of the 7th World Water Forum, I feel at once buoyed by the stimulating challenges that water management offers us, and very curious about how we – the global water community of practice and beyond – will actually tackle these in the coming years.

Isabelle Fauconnier being interviewed by a journalist at the 7th World Water Forum in Korea, April 2015.

For example, there is now a consensus that water-food-energy “Nexus” thinking is a good idea, and that transboundary water cooperation is also a good idea. These are two complex propositions that share a common obstacle: they are not easy to implement. Yet in many shared basins, as we move from policy talk to action on the ground, we must often overlay and operationalize these very challenges.

We at IUCN, along with others, have made the case that nature is a solution for water, and not just a competing use for water. Ecosystems as natural infrastructure perform vital functions like water storage by forest soils and wetlands, soil nutrient cycling for food production, water purification, and more. In turn, it is healthy ecosystems that provide a key input, water, for the production of food and energy, and for human consumption. So if ecosystem functions are depleted, energy and food production and basic human water needs will suffer considerable losses.

The tricky thing is that because ecosystems don’t follow political boundaries, they are often a shared common resource between neighbouring countries [see IUCN BRIDGE project]. And in both transboundary and national basins, they are a shared resource among user groups across the food, energy and other economic sectors. So what will propel stakeholders – be they countries, basin institutions, user groups, individuals – to better cooperate towards ecosystem protection and water management so as to better share these ecosystem benefits?

Maybe we start by getting water users and policy-makers better equipped with knowledge about the worth of these services to daily human activities on the ground. Isn’t it time for stakeholders to internalize the value of these services in their decisions? Without proper valuation of these services, we fail to see the additional benefits that can be derived from their improved joint management. Evidently, the values to be assessed are not just monetary: they might include strategic, pacific and cultural values [see IUCN Toolkit: Value: Counting ecosystems as water infrastructure]. Capturing the values of ecosystem services, and factoring them into management scenarios at the basin level would be a huge step forward. It would help decision-makers and users to plan jointly for land use and for natural and built infrastructure to provide e.g., irrigation, water supply and hydropower generation.

I was struck by the simplicity and persuasiveness of an example from Peru, shared by Mr. Fernando Momiy Hada, President of SUNASS, the Peruvian regulatory agency for water supply and sanitation utilities. Mr. Momiy spoke at a Water Forum session organized by IUCN Water and the Ramsar Convention Secretariat titled “Scaling impact and collective implementation to manage and restore ecosystems for water services and biodiversity.” He explained the steps that SEDACUSO utility took to protect Piuray lake through a payment for ecosystem services (P.E.S.) scheme with local communities. The utility had made a simple calculation: it was much more cost-efficient to pay riparian communities to undertake ecosystems restoration activities in the watershed than to invest in costly engineered infrastructures for water quality and quantity conservation. As a result, Peru is now scaling up this approach to a number of other watersheds in the country.

This example also serves to remind us that the benefits and costs of ecosystems and water management are shared among stakeholders at different levels, from the national to the local. So identifying the full range of stakeholders across neighbouring countries, across sectors and across levels is vital. Local communities and smallholder farmers and fishermen have a key role to play: the very way in which these different actors use and manage water resources is what helps to determine values, including benefits and impacts of management scenarios, both in terms of quantity and equity. Put differently, the proper valuation of ecosystem benefits reflects not just the interests of big agriculture and big energy, but also uses by local, smaller stakeholders…So ecosystem valuation presents the added benefit of strengthening the voice and inclusion of local stakeholders.

Obviously, this is no simple magic bullet: it is a process that requires good analysis, multi-level consultations, dialogue and negotiations. But it is probably worth it: including nature in our calculations of present and future value can lead to less costly, more sustainable and more equitable projects.


Blog written by Isabelle Fauconnier, Water Policy and Sustainability Advisor, IUCN Global Water Programme: [email protected]

Work area: 
Climate Change
Environmental Law
Global Policy
West Asia
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