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1. Introduction: pressures on water resources

    The source document for this Digest states:

    Part 1. Global Hydrology and Water Resources

    The need to develop more sustainable practices for the management and efficient use of water resources, as well as the need to protect the environmental ecosystems where these resources are located, has led to fundamental shifts in awareness and public concern over the past decade. However, despite increased awareness of the issues at stake, economic criteria and politically charged reasoning are still driving water resource development decisions at most local, regional, national and international levels. Though the long-term benefits of an integrated approach to achieving sustainable water resources development have been cited in many of the global water conferences over the past decade, considerable time and change in policy will be required to implement such an approach. At present, best available practice and scientific knowledge are rarely adequately factored into decision-making or well represented when establishing water resource policy or implementing management practices. In the meantime, the pressures on our water resources are increasing.

    1a. The driving forces and pressures on our water resources

    The combination of both naturally occurring conditions and humanity’s actions creates pressure on our water resources. Climate change and natural variability in the distribution and occurrence of water are the natural driving forces that complicate the sustainable development of our water resources. Some of the main driving forces affecting water resources include:

    • population growth, particularly in water-short regions
    • major demographic changes as people move from rural to urban environments
    • higher demands for food security and socio-economic well-being
    • increased competition between users and usages
    • pollution from industrial, municipal and agricultural sources.

    While many issues remain on how to deal with and alleviate the pressures on our water resources, the progress being made in some sectors is worth noting. Natural units, such as river basins and aquifer systems, are becoming institutionally recognized: one example is the EU Water Framework Directive. Basin-oriented water resources assessment is increasingly being adopted by national and regional programmes and due consideration is given to the need to identify the critical volume and quality of water needed to maintain ecosystem resilience (environmental flows; see Chapter 5).

    We are also seeing the emergence of highly detailed analyses of the processes involved as well as results-based diagnoses from catchment agencies, basin commissions and watershed and aquifer management authorities. These activities are being carried out globally in a variety of different economic and cultural settings and at different sizes and scales. Most of these organizations were created relatively recently for jurisdictions that correspond to physical hydrological limits rather than historically defined administrative boundaries (Blomquist et al., 2005; WWF, 2003). Moving away from historically administrative boundaries to a consideration of water resources management practice based on physical hydrological limits allows us to better respond to nature’s variability.

    To better combat flooding, the Associated Programme of Flood Management (APFM), a WMO and GWP joint effort as well as UNESCO’s International Flood Initiative (IFI) outline new approaches that are being developed for a better understanding of the links between natural settings and the legal, environmental and social conditions inherent to flooding and the mitigation of its impacts. In this way, communities commonly faced with flooding can now develop more sustainable methods to reduce the socio-economic effects of such high-impact events (see Chapter 10).

    Further illustrations of emerging progress on countering the pressures on water resources are highlighted in Chapters 6 through 13 and in some of the case study examples cited in Chapter 14.

    Source & ©: UNESCO, The United Nations World Water Development Report 2 (2006)
    Section 2: Changing Natural Systems,
    Chapter 4 (UNESCO & WMO, with IAEA),
    Part 1. Global Hydrology and Water Resources, p.121-122