From the Forum to the field: IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative

Working with governments, local communities and other stakeholders, IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) has contributed to reducing poverty, improving livelihoods and healthy ecosystems by helping people access and manage river flows in over 30 countries.

The Water and Nature Initiative Photo: IUCN / The Water and Nature Initiative

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Risks Report has identified the water crisis as the global risk of the highest concern for the next 10 years.

Lack of access to water has grave impacts on health, education, hunger and poverty, yet 1.1 billion women, men and children lack access to safe water and 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation. Associated global economic losses are estimated to be US$ 260 billion annually.

Until the mid-1990’s, the world lacked an international body to address and coordinate efforts on global water issues. In 1996, the IUCN became a founding member of the World Water Council, which aims to raise awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues.

In March 2000 the World Water Council unveiled their vision for global sustainable water resource management, which was shaped by inputs from 15,000 women and men with a broad range of backgrounds. The World Water Vision aimed to inspire people to change their behaviours as consumers and citizens to support sustainable water use and incite leaders and professionals to use their power and knowledge to turn the vision into reality.

In this context, IUCN developed the Vision for Water and Nature, which promoted an ecosystem-based approach to water resource management. IUCN’s strategy was largely focused on river basins and was designed to support global social, economic and environmental security.

IUCN’s Vision for Water and Nature was presented and discussed at interactive Forum session called Making waves - strategies for averting the world water crisis at the World Conservation Congress in Amman, Jordan in the year 2000. This sparked the development of IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative (WANI), which worked with governments, local communities and other stakeholders to put the vision into action on the ground from 2001 until 2013.

WANI has helped to reduce poverty, improve livelihoods and maintain healthy ecosystems in over 30 countries by helping people manage river flows and improving access to fresh river water. Using a hands-on demonstration or ‘learning-by-doing’ approach, WANI worked with IUCN’s Members and partners to show how to practically implement Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) at river basin and national levels.

Results were impressive.

From 2001-2012 WANI helped to develop and/or implement new national policies on water resources management in 6 countries and empowered multi-stakeholder platforms to reform governance of river basin management in 7 national and international basins. Major new financing commitments to mobilize action on restoration and sustainable management were made by national governments in at least three countries (Nigeria, Botswana and Tanzania), and new institutions for transboundary cooperation were established or new international treaties were signed or in 9 river basins.

In 6 demonstration basins spanning 11 countries, new income-generating activities for poor people resulted from combining water resources management with enterprise development and new assets for sustainable livelihoods in communities. In 5 basins, poor people became less vulnerable to climate risks and disaster because of environmental flow management and ecosystem restoration.

Read the full WANI results report here.   

Building on the WANI experience, the IUCN’s Regional and Global Water Programmes continue to work towards improved water governance, sustainable water management and investment for natural infrastructure.

Water governance, management and financing are some of the many issues that will be addressed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016, which is taking place in September in Hawai’i. 

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