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close this bookUnited Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 15, Number 2, 1998 (UNU, 1998, 12 pages)
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentWater for sustainable growth: "Nor any drop to drink"
View the documentThe work of UNU/INWEH: Improving water management
View the documentStanding in line for water: Cooperation on the Ganges and Brahmaputra
View the documentHydropolitics along the Danube
View the documentCity water: 21st century challenge
View the documentNew ways to govern the seas
Open this folder and view contentsRavaged seas in Central Asia
View the documentHistory's plagued seas: The Mediterranean
View the documentClimate, history and water
View the documentWater: The 21st century's oil?
View the documentA chemical eye on water
View the documentWhen oil troubles waters

The work of UNU/INWEH: Improving water management

By Ralph Daley and Terry Collins

Growing water scarcity is now a major impediment to some of the globe's most urgent development objectives: improved food production, thriving ecosystems, healthy and socially stable societies. The UNU's work on water scarcity problems is being spearheaded in Canada by the newest member of the University family, the International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU/INWEH) in Hamilton, Ontario; it completed its first year of operation in 1997. The Network responds to a stark reality of our time: more than one-fifth of all people on earth presently lack access to safe drinking water - and that number is projected to rise to a shocking two-thirds of the world population in the first quarter of the new century.

INWEH is integrating international expertise into a worldwide programme of education, training, research and technology transfer on major issues relating to water, environment and human health. Its Director is Dr. Ralph Daley, who previously headed Canada's respected National Water Research Institute. The following article, by Dr. Daley and INWEH staff member Terry Collins, outlines the way the new water network has been organized and some of the results of its early work. - Editor

In 1997, the UN General Assembly called for the highest priority to be given to the serious freshwater problems facing many regions, but especially in the developing world. These contribute to a growing human toll each year, including the deaths of 2.9 million children. The United Nations University International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU/INWEH) has been created to help address these concerns. Its mandate is to work in and with developing countries to improve freshwater management training and to engage in on-the-ground water projects, emphasizing integrated watershed management.

As with other components of the UNU, the new facility seeks to build institutional capacities in the Third World. As a network, it is able to do so with small institutional overhead and the flexibility to assemble teams from different disciplines and nations with the precise skills and expertise required to meet a given need.

As home to UNU/INWEH headquarters, the UN flag flies at McMaster University in Hamilton, a city famous for its steel industry, on the shores of Lake Ontario to the west of Toronto. INWEH now has a full-time staff of six, two part-time professionals, and an annual budget of roughly US$700,000.

The new Network operates on two major tracks. On the one hand, it is a hands-on organization, putting teams of professionals from around the globe to work on water-related projects in developing countries, thus dealing with immediate pressing concerns. At the same time, it is an educational organization, working to strengthen human resources locally to meet long-term needs.

The Network includes water-related experts at academic institutions, the UN and other multilateral bodies, governmental and non-governmental organizations and private sector firms. UNU/INWEH represents a new approach to delivering much-needed services - a global network of experts to conceive, research, design and implement projects that address water problems and promote integrated watershed management in developing countries.

At the same time, because it is an academic institution, training is a key role: human resource development is fundamental to each project and programme. INWEH emphasizes the training of people from developing nations who, in turn, will teach others back home. In this way, countries can better meet ongoing needs themselves, with citizens better skilled in such areas as environmental monitoring, regulatory development and enforcement, information collection and dissemination, and water research. The educational programme will eventually include integrated training in watershed management, customized project training, and distance education.

The Network's World Wide Website (, which became operational in 1998, is a key component of the educational programme. It is designed to aid distance learning in integrated water quality management and aquatic ecosystem protection. In full operation, the Website will facilitate international communication (including on-line language translation), data management and environmental modeling.

A quarterly UNU/INWEH newsletter, Network News, was launched in spring 1998, and an introductory brochure was completed in five languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic) and distributed broadly in relevant government, academic, private sector and UN circles.

On-the-ground project team members are being recruited from different disciplines and nations, especially those countries in which projects are undertaken. Experience will be transferred to other places, with emphasis on creating South-to-South interaction between people in developing countries.

The Network's objectives also include promoting the transfer of technologies to meet water needs and support for environmental industries in developing countries, to ensure the ongoing availability of affordable products and services.

While projects and programmes are coordinated from Network Headquarters in Canada, UNU/INWEH is establishing small international cooperating offices (ICOs) in selected developing countries, to serve as focal points for projects, training and distance education, as well as regional and community information dissemination. ICOs are considered critical for effective outreach, ensuring that a developing world perspective is present in all of INWEH's activities.

The new organization features several advantages:

· The Network approach permits the identification, design and execution of programmes and projects quickly, effectively and at minimal cost;

· As part of the UNU, INWEH is an impartial global body. It benefits from a close relationship with UN agencies and the ability to contribute to the policies and technical programmes of sister multilateral bodies in the UN system. These include UNESCO, the UN Development Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Environment Programme, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and the World Bank.

· The Network approach permits a high degree of flexibility and choice in assembling the expert team members who conduct research, provide training, and execute projects.

· Small institutional overhead costs are possible. Project team experts will often be seconded from other institution to meet specific project needs.

The new organization has three immediate goals: First, the registry of public, academic and private sector experts will be expanded worldwide to permit the formation of customized teams that meet specific project and training needs. Second, water projects will be chosen that provide opportunity to build local capacity in environment and human health protection. Initial funding here has been directed to project development in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Lastly, the activities will be designed to achieve financial self-sufficiency by year 2001. (For the four-year start-up period only, core funding of approximately US$3 million has been provided by the Government of Canada.

UNU/INWEH has an International Advisory Board comprised of six distinguished experts in environmental affairs from around the globe, together with the UNU Rector and the Director of INWEH, who sit as ex officio members.


ICOs in Jordan and Mexico are expected to be in full operation soon, and work is under way to create additional units in Brazil and East Africa. Located in host institutions with broad national and regional interests in water-related issues, these offices will facilitate project development and serve as regional focal points. They are key to achieving UNU/INWEH's goals, including financial self-sufficiency.

ICOs are to be small, with up to three core staff, located within government, university or NGO institutions. The offices will be formal components of UNU/INWEH and work closely with institutions, governments and organizations in the regions concerned. Training and technical support in the areas of integrated watershed management, water supply and wastewater systems, and laboratory operations will be initial priorities.

Dr. Walid Saleh is Regional Coordinator of the Middle East ICO, in Amman, Jordan, co-funded by the Higher Council for Science and Technology of the Government of Jordan. The Middle East is the most concentrated region of water scarcity in the world.

The ICO in Mexico City will ultimately serve the wider Caribbean region, but its initial focus will be on capacity building in Mexico itself, which has severe water stresses.

An extensive range of needs and opportunities present themselves in both South America and Africa. These include lake and reservoir management, agricultural application of wastewater biosolids, industrial pollution prevention and community-based water monitoring.

Project Development

The Network's first capacity-building project, in Juarez, Mexico, is to design, develop and implement a Master Plan for Biosolids Management in that northern border city. The goal is to ensure that sludge from two new wastewater treatment plants is managed in an environmentally sustainable manner. UNU/INWEH will play an executive role, marshalling a team of experts in the science, economics, guideline development and agricultural practices of biosolids management; the experts will be drawn from government, academia, and the private sector, both in Mexico and the international community. The three-year project aims at building, applying and consolidating a sustainable biosolids management capacity in the form of a permanent public-private partnership for Juarez. Its ultimate goal is to replicate this project in urban centres in Mexico and throughout Latin America, using the Juarez expertise to promote South-South interaction and implementation. Peru and three other Mexican cities have already expressed interest in following and perhaps modeling the Juarez initiative.

A second capacity-building project in Mexico involves the development and implementation of a pilot "National Capacity-building Framework for the Water Sectors," in conjunction with the Mexican National Water Commission and in partnership with the Environmental Education and Training Institute of North America.

In East Africa, an agreement has been signed with the newly created Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization for INWEH to provide training, research and management advice to an environmental management project currently run by the three nations bordering the lake: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

This effort, the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project, with US$77 million over five years from the Global Environment Facility, contains important provisions for training and technical capacity-building in watershed management, limnology, water quality monitoring and fisheries science. The agreement capped a visit in March of this year by delegations of senior government environmental officials from the nations involved, which was hosted by UNU/INWEH.

In West Africa, efforts are under way on a UNU/INWEH-seeded project to install solar-powered groundwater pumping stations around cities and in rural villages of the Sahel. Pilot installations are planned for Burkina Faso, with community-level training conducted to ensure that water quality and the pumping systems themselves are properly monitored and sustained.

In the Middle East, planning is well advanced on projects in Jordan, Palestine, and the Arab Gulf states. In Qatar, work started in summer 1998 on a $240,000 groundwater remediation project in Doha. In Jordan, a computerized decision-support model is being developed to optimize water-harvesting efforts in arid and semi-arid Bedouin farming regions; the work is being done in collaboration with the Badia Research and Training Programme of the Jordanian Higher Council for Science and Technology.

Other activities in the Middle East include: an environmental data base project in Abu Dhabi; a biosolids management project in Gaza and the West Bank; study of environmental impacts from water treatment plants in Saudi Arabia; and region-wide training in environmental information management systems. A Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be signed with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia for cooperation on water research, training and capacity building.


A pilot training course on freshwater chemical instrumentation has been started in partnership with Hewlett-Packard Inc. HP and Varian International are two of several private firms which, together with a number of universities, have offered to provide their existing training courses, appropriately modified, under the UNU/INWEH umbrella.

Efforts are now underway to fast-track the creation of an integrated training curriculum in freshwater management. Memoranda of Understanding are being developed with several Canadian universities - including Waterloo, Western Ontario, Windsor and McMaster - as well as with the Grand River and Hamilton Region Conservation Authorities. These efforts are closely related to the transfer to the Hamilton headquarters of the UN system's "GEMS/WATER" training programme (UNEP and WHO), an activity coordinated at Canada's National Water Research Institute.