Connecting Waterpeople

Strengthening the science-policy interface for improved integrated water resources management

  • Strengthening the science-policy interface for improved integrated water resources management

About the blog

Hassan Tolba Aboelnga
Hassan Aboelnga is a renowned young water professional in issues of water security, climate change and sustainable development. He is currently a PhD researcher at University of Kassel and TH Köln, University of Applied Sciences.
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The growing focus on water security and climate change offer a significant opportunity for integrated water resources management (IWRM) among science and policy communities. IWRM aims to support countries in their efforts to tackle specific water challenges and accelerate progress towards SDG 6.5 (IWRM), which contributes to a range of water-related SDGs and climate objectives. Despite the need to rethink water as a connector, scientific, policy, and professional communities are still organized through sectoral and disciplinary structures.  Drivers such as population growth and climate change further exacerbate the stress on water resources. The traditional fragmented approach is no longer viable and a more holistic approach to water management is indispensable at national, basin and international levels.

Given the IWRM opportunities, and the importance of finding interdisciplinary solutions to this issue, it will be necessary to educate and engage a new generation that can shape the future and provide holistic support to the complex and chronic water challenges as well as policy areas including IWRM, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), water, energy and food nexus security and climate-resilient development.

IWRM in a Changing Environment

The global call for IWRM (SDG 6.5) is: “By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate”. Its implementation was formalized in 1992. Almost 30 years later, according to the recent UN- Water report[1] on the status of IWRM, 87 countries (47 percent of the countries) still report “low” or “medium-low” levels of IWRM implementation. IWRM was a response to adverse impacts of bad water management and inefficient water resource policies. Past practice fails to recognize properly that growing water challenges from increasing demands, climate changes with hydrological uncertainty and extremes that would lead to competition between water users.

The conflict between irrigated agriculture and the environmental services provided by water is a classic case. Upstream and downstream uses can also be incompatible. IWRM was supposed to address these potential contests by comprehensive, participatory planning and implementation tools for managing and developing water resources in a way that balances social and economic needs, and that ensures the protection of ecosystems for future generations.

Considering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), IWRM has been evolving into a more sustainable approach as it considers the Nexus approach, which is a cross-sectoral water resource management. The Nexus approach is based on the recognition that "water, energy and food are closely linked through global and local water, carbon and energy cycles or chains."

The IWRM approach focuses on three pillars[2]:

  • providing suitable policies, strategies and legislation for sustainable water resources development and management,
  • establishing an institutional framework to put into practice the policies, strategies and legislation, and
  • setting up management instruments required by these institutions to do their job.

Today the world is off track to achieve the SDG target 6.5 on IWRM by 2030 and acceleration is urgently needed to get it back on track. The UN-Water report on IWRM made three key points:

  1. Globally, the rate of implementation of IWRM urgently needs to double.
  2. Achieving SDG target 6.5 differ from one country to the other and maintaining the objectives of sustainable water resources management is an ongoing process.
  3. Business as usual is not an option.

The principles of good governance through IWRM are based on bringing together our understanding of water from many domains, thus strengthening the Science-Policy Interface for Improved IWRM is an important part of the enabling environment IWRM principle has the aim of contributing to the quantitatively and qualitatively sustainable management of interlinked surface waters, aquifers and coastal waters. This will help ensure the social and economic development and the efficiency of vitally important ecosystems.

IWRM must be thus strengthened by policy and science through education to face the complex system of water management with a holistic mindset, yet examples of such interdisciplinary approaches are still relatively rare, especially in education. Interdisciplinary master programs are based on the idea that real world problems are broad, complex, and require tools and information from a variety of different disciplines to formulate solutions.

If we have to diversify water resources for water security and IWRM, we need to diversify as well the diversify expertise and knowledge for breaking silos across sectors and boundaries - Dr.-Ing Hassan Aboelnga

The new paradigm in water management in Egypt

The challenge is that IWRM should cope with complex issues of water in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner, without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems. Progress was achieved despite the increasing water demands, climate change, a wavering economic environment, especially in the recent past, and continuing uncertainty on water supplies from upstream. Yet much remains to be done to achieve the sustainable development target (SDG 6.5) and there is little room for complacency.

Egypt has adopted a new paradigm for water resources management by holistic solutions to leapfrog the achievement of IWRM by diversifying water resources from mega national projects for desalination and wastewater reuse, restoring the ecosystem in Manzla lake, lining canals to improve water efficiency, localizing development to villages through Decent Life Initiative to improve access to sanitation services for all,  revoke the Water Resources Law No. 12 of 1984 with a new enactment of Law to address the current and future water challenges in Egypt.  

For instance, Bahr El Baqar wastewater treatment plant holds three Guinness World Records:  the largest treatment plant in the world with a capacity of 64.8 m3 / s., the largest sludge treatment plant with a capacity of 360 kg/s. and the largest single-operator ozone generating plant with a capacity of 0.1792 kg / s. The total capacity of the plant is about 2 billion m³ per year. The project contributes to the reclamation of 400,000 feddans by recycling and using agricultural, industrial and sewage wastewater, which will be diverted from the western to the eastern bank under the Suez Canal.

Despite ongoing projects and plans to mobilize additional water resources, current forecasts of water balance are that the neck-and-neck race between supply and demand will continue. The challenge of achieving water security and IWRM is compounded by the need for continued commitment and efforts from all water stakeholders, with raising awareness at levels and creating a new generation of water professionals that are able to handle these complex challenges in changing environment.

If the world to get the SDG6.5 on integrated management of water resources back on track, policies should be based on SCIENCE -  Dr. Ismail Abdel Galil, Director of Arab Water Academy

SCIENCE implies: 

  • Site-specified: as there are no one size fits all solutions, policies should be based on the principle fit for purpose solutions 
  • Community-participation: IWRM is mainly based on the participatory approach of all water stakeholders. IWRM policies should meet the community needs.
  • Incentives-motivated: IWRM policies should motivate both institutions and the farmers to use and manage water wisely 
  • Evidence-driven: IWRM policies should be based on sound science for an informed decision.
  • NATURE- conservation: IWRM policies should promote nature-based solutions to adapt to the adverse climate impacts.
  • COST-BENEFIT: IWRM policies should take into account the economic viability of the water projects.
  • ENERGY- Saving: IWRM policies should provide nexus solutions to optimise energy consumption and mitigate climate change.

All of the above and much more have been discussed and deliberated during the 27th of October 2021 session titled, ‘TS4.1: Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface for Improved Integrated Water Resources Management,’ held during the Cairo Water Week.

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