20 Years of Impact – Working in Partnership on Water

One certainty about sustainable development is that it will not be possible without taking climate change into account. And if there is a certainty about climate change, it is that humanity will not adapt to it without taking into account water resources management. In September 2015 when 193 countries at the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) these two certainties so greatly influenced decision-making that goal #6 was dedicated to water. SDG #6 is not only about the urgent need for clean water and sanitation for everyone. It encompasses the full range of issues around managing water resources, including the work of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) for an integrated approach to water use by all economic sectors.

GWP began to support governments in applying a cross-sector approach to water resources management 20 years ago (1996), when the partnership was launched. In 2002, when GWP became an intergovernmental organization, the WMO was a founding member, expressing its solidarity with the GWP approach that came to be called Integrated Water Resources Management. Today GWP has 85 Country Water Partnerships and more than 3 000 institutional partners in 182 countries and remains committed to its initial approach to water resource management.

Implementing the cross-sector approach to water management

Typically, water investments are spread across many institutions and different levels of government. As a result, decisions are often fragmented and conflicting as water use may be covered by ministries such as agriculture, energy or commerce, that do not have water stewardship as their primary concern. This makes sustainable decisions unlikely, thus the need for an integrated, cross-sector approach to water resource management.

GWP, Lake CyohohaLocal communities and authorities, including the Minister of Water and Environment, joined hands to plant trees to protect the Lake Cyohoha buffer zone. The initiative aimed at sensitizing communities to own up and sustain initiatives to protect the Lake while stressing the importance of integrated water resources management. 

Through its multi-stakeholder partnership, GWP has advocated for, and facilitated the implementation of, Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Efficiency Plans in response to government commitments at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Catalyzing Change and other GWP materials provide countries with the knowledge needed and actions required to meet the targets set at the Summit.

GWP further undertook a continent-wide programme to support 13 African countries in developing and implementing Integrated Water Resources Management plans, which ended in 2008. One of the many lessons learned was that water resources management must be incorporated into national development processes in order to contribute effectively to sustainable development and poverty eradication. Another lesson, which became the basis for a subsequent programme, is that development is threatened unless climate resilience is built through better water management.

The subsequent GWP Water, Climate and Development Programme included the joint WMO and GWP Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM) and Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP). The combined reach and expertise of the two organizations has facilitated implementation at state and community levels. The ten countries in Central and Eastern Europe that started to address the gaps in their approach to drought management through the Programme are already seeing clear benefits. The Guidelines for Preparation of the Drought Management Plans and the Guidelines on Natural Small Water Retention Measures have been a source of knowledge in this work.

GWP bridges the gap between what climate information producers provide and what policymakers, planners and other users, such as farmers, needs to manage water resources, and by so doing contributes to the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS). In Central America, for example, GWP trained meteorologists to use the standardized precipitation index (SPI), a common tool for monitoring drought. In 2015, the index became part of the climate forecasts shared with relevant government ministries. The next step is to develop a drought early warning system to strengthen regional capacity in monitoring droughts and to support decision-makers in related areas, especially agriculture, fisheries, water resources management, risk management and food security.

Another example is in an effort to improve climate resilience at the community level. In Burundi and Rwanda, GWP teamed up with stakeholders to implement a pilot project in the transboundary catchment area of Lake Cyohoha, located between the two countries. The project showcased the range of activities needed to bring about change: awareness-raising, stakeholder engagement, institutional capacity-building, and integration with government priorities. The project has improved living conditions and reduced vulnerability to climate change among the 30 000 catchment inhabitants through “no and low regret” interventions such as biogas facilities, water supply infrastructure and reforestation programmes.

Austria flooding/GWPHigh water and flooding in the streets in Steyr, Austria, is an example of flood damage to urban properties that costs an estimated US$ 120 billion per year

Inaction, the biggest risk

Big challenges remain, of course. But the biggest risk would be inaction. In 2013, GWP commissioned a task force of economists, led by Oxford University, to prepare a landmark study entitled Securing Water, Sustaining Growth, which was published in 2015. The study furnishes evidence that water insecurity costs the global economy some US$ 500 billion per year – and that figure does not take environmental impacts into account. The total drag on the world economy could be 1% or more of Global Domestic Product (GDP) if they were. For example, flood damage to urban properties alone is estimated at US$ 120 billion per year, while major droughts were found to reduce per capita GDP growth by half a percentage point. In particularly vulnerable economies, a 50% reduction in drought impacts could lead to a 20% increase in per capita GDP over a period of 30 years. Investing in water security would mitigate many of the related losses and promote long-term sustainable growth.

GWP and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) incorporated the report findings into a policy statement and presented it to a high-level panel at the 7th World Water Forum in Korea in April 2015. The statement calls on governments to invest in water security, risk management, people and partnerships, and to pay special attention to social risks among poor and vulnerable communities.

SDG6Supporting Goal #6

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to eradicate poverty in one generation. Action must be prompt if this ambitious goal is to be achieved. Building on 20 years of experience and knowledge, GWP will support countries to achieve the SDGs through its Water Preparedness Facility. The Facility forms the basis for building alliances with implementing partners, such as UN-Water, UNDP’s Cap-Net programme, WMO and others.

The objective of the SDG Water Preparedness Facility is to provide practical support for 20 to 25 countries to implement SDG 6 on water and other water-related SDGs. The expected results include:

  • Improving Policy, Financing and Monitoring: working collaboratively to ensure that national policy and planning frameworks are geared towards the SDGs; help countries understand and access finance for SDG implementation from multiple sources; collaboratively develop and put in place a robust global and national monitoring framework for water related targets;
  • Improving Knowledge and Capacity: help countries to develop the skills to enable implementation of the water targets and develop knowledge on issues related to SDG 6 implementation; and
  • Strengthening partnerships: broaden the GWP network to bring in actors from non-water sectors that substantially interact with water; share experiences across partnerships to expand SDG implementation.

The recent GWP Strategic Positioning Briefing Note outlines its ambitious plan to persuade leaders that integrated water governance is the foundation of food and energy security, poverty alleviation, social stability – and peace. GWP is committed to implementing the water-related SDGs and targets as the building blocks of social justice, economic prosperity and environmental integrity.



Steven Downey, Global Water Partnership

Frederik Pischke, Global Water Partnership




Share this page