Managing water

Managing water resources
Developing water management
Implementing water resources management

Water is essential to the processes of society. Water resource management must not only try to ensure sufficient quantities of water but also acceptable water quality and accessibility. Water management authorities may be overwhelmed and/or mismanage water resources and services. These stem from rapid population growth and the dramatic increase in per capita water consumption as a result of modern development. About 1,000 million people still lack an adequate water supply, and about 1,700 million people do not have adequate sanitation facilities. The quality of the service as well as the water can often be poor. These are problems particularly plaguing developing countries. Agricultural irrigation, in particular, may be mismanaged. It accounts for about 73% of all water withdrawals, but roughly half of this amount is not used by crops. One reason for such inefficiencies is that agricultural water is also significantly cheaper for the user than other water applications are to their users. Such practices need to be reduced by improving water resource management, and in order to ensure sustainable water resource use.

When a recent drought dangerously reduced available water, California set up a voluntary water bank that purchased water from farmers and sold it to urban areas. The farmers made a profit by selling water for more than it was worth to them, while the cities got water at a cost well below that of other sources of supply. In the 1960s the government of the USA concluded that sixteen dams and more than US$ 400 million were required to meet the water needs of Washington DC. Environmental pressure forced plans to be reconsidered. The number of dams was reduced to one at a total cost of US$ 30 million. The key changes were a revised plan for managing demand during droughts and more efficient operating rules. Also in the USA, manufacturing industry freshwater withdrawals are estimated to be 62% less in 2000 than in 1977, primarily because of the increased costs industries have to pay for disposing of industrial wastewater.

The city of Jakarta, Indonesia, has had success in reducing overpumping of its aquifers by registering groundwater users and introducing a groundwater levy. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, three industrial plants reduced their water demand by between 42 and 62% as a result of the imposition of effluent charges.

UNESCO's programme includes the following: evaluating the impacts of global and regional climate changes on water resources; improving scientific understanding of water-related issues and sustainable water resource management in the humid tropics; strengthening member states' capabilities in the preparation of water-resource master plans.


This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends protecting the quality and supply of freshwater resources through application of integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources.

Constructing bunds
Measuring water use
Managing wastewater
Managing groundwater
Legislating water use
Managing water supplies
Assessing water quality
Collecting data on water
Increasing water control
Ensuring water resources
Protecting aquatic ecosystems
Encouraging rational water use
Decentralizing water management
Strengthening water management structure
Sharing international water resources
Developing analytical models for water management
Increasing combined use of surface and groundwater
Using a participatory approach to water management
Developing appropriate water management technology
Developing appropriate water management technology
Assessing impact of climate change on water resources
Strengthening water monitoring management at all levels
Enabling local community management of aquatic resources
Identifying national needs for water resource management
Involving local people in water management
Improving land and water management by farmers in arid regions
Increasing cooperation within and among water management agencies
Improving policies to promote investment in urban water management
Improving career development programmes for land and water management staff
Researching contribution of forests to sustainable water resource management
Expanding water and soil management research for irrigated and rain-fed areas
Undertaking long-term capacity building measures for improved water management
Improving international exchange of information on water management technology
Improving management practices to minimize impact of agrochemicals on water resources
Harmonizing national water management strategies and action programmes at the regional level
Using hydropower
Ensuring water security
Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal