Reform now, save water, says IUCN

Increased pressure on water means better laws, regulations and policies must be put in place if we are to sustain this precious resource, says IUCN’s latest report.

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“Successful water governance requires a strong legal and regulatory system to achieve the benefits policy makers want,” says Alejandro Iza, Director of IUCN’s Environmental Law Centre. “Effective water laws should combine precision with flexibility, ensuring sustainable development and protection of the environment.”

How a country manages its water resources determines the health of its people, the success of its economy, the sustainability of its natural environment, and its relations with its neighbours. Good water management can provide clean drinking water and sanitation, the basis of good health. Bad water management can increase disease and suffering and leave people poorer as the environment degrades.

IUCN’s latest publication, “Rule: Reforming Water Governance”, shows that water reforms that reduce poverty and make economies more resilient are based on principles of equity and sustainability. Water is a vital natural resource for life on earth. When water resources are degraded, impacts are felt at all levels of society and the economy.

“In order to serve the public interest, water legislation needs to organize state and local authorities in a coherent institutional framework that delivers policy objectives on the ground such as a secure, reliable and flexible water supply to its communities for their health and economic well-being,” adds Iza. “Water laws must seek a workable balance between the water rights of business users and people who have traditional livelihoods by ensuring a rights-based approach to water. Without this, the costs to the economy and damage to the environment can be very high.”

The costs of environmental and health degradation due to inadequate water and sanitation services have been estimated at more than one percent of GDP in Colombia, 0.6 percent in Tunisia, and 1.4 percent in Bangladesh.

Solutions to this dire situation are possible – and emerging around the world. South Africa has implemented ambitious water reforms over the last decade. The National Water Act guarantees a ‘water reserve’ to secure a basic water supply and the health of aquatic ecosystems. New water institutions at river basin and community levels give people a say in how water is used, help people to uphold their water rights and make the authorities accountable.

Mirroring the South African experience, Tanzania has shown how water reforms support development. Reform has meant that local water user associations can now solve some of their own water problems. In the Pangani river basin, flowing off the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, cattle were polluting water that farmers relied on, causing conflict in villages. The new local water user group negotiated a solution, and now there is clean water and famers and herders can each pursue their livelihoods.

“We want Ministers meeting in Istanbul to aim for better governance of their countries’ water supplies – that is policies, laws and institutions that are capable of solving the water crisis,” says Mark Smith, Head of IUCN’s Water Programme. “Water governance is a means to an end, which is good water management. A failure to act here and now could spell water disaster for both nature and the economy.”

For more information or to set up interviews please contact:

  • Brian Thomson, IUCN Global Communications, m +41 79 721 8326; e brian.thomson
  • Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Water Programme, m +41 79 404 1973; e

Photos, video b-roll and audio clips are available here:  

Work area: 
Environmental Law
Freshwater species
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