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close this bookPriorities for Water Resources Allocation (NRI)
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View the documentIntroduction
Open this folder and view contentsPriorities and conflicts in water resource development
Open this folder and view contentsIssues in water resources management
Open this folder and view contentsDomestic water use
Open this folder and view contentsUrban and industrial water use
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Open this folder and view contentsAquatic resources
Open this folder and view contentsThe wider environment


The first joint conference of ODA's Natural Resources and Engineering Advisers was held at the University of Southampton in July 1992. Besides Advisers from ODA headquarters there was representation from the ODA's Development Divisions, Aid Management Offices, Natural Resources Institute and also Associated Bodies. The conference was greatly enlivened by the presence of 18 non-ODA guest speakers and participants from a variety of academic institutions, NGOs and others involved in issues related to water in development.

The theme of the conference was 'water' and priorities for the allocation and management of the resource. ODA has been involved in water resource development since its inception but issues of allocation and management have become increasingly important. This has been reflected in increased international consultation on water as discussed below, and also in the need for greater linkage across the Divisions of ODA in water related issues. The 1991 ODA Natural Resources Advisers Conference discussed the theme of interdisciplinarity so that the bringing together of engineers, natural resources advisers and advisers of other disciplines as well as ODA administrators to discuss such a major cross-cutting theme was appropriate. The conference was part of the process of developing an integrated policy on water for ODA as already developed for other cross cutting issues such as environment, gender, economic reform, management, poverty and good government.

The conference came at a time of increasing international concern with water related issues. In the World Bank's development report for 1992 clean water and adequate sanitation are put at the top of developing country priorities and a programme of action for more efficient management of water resources is recommended. The International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1981-1990) had been followed by the New Delhi statement which emphasised the urgent need to integrate water resources management whereby water supply, sanitation and irrigation were no longer treated as separate sectors. The Dublin Conference on 'Water and the Environment' in January 1992 stated the need for a further change in water resources development to a more holistic and multidisciplinary approach. International concern with water culminated in June 1992 at UNCED in Rio de Janeiro. Agenda 21, a major output of the conference, contains Chapter 18 entitled 'Protection of the Quality and Supply of Freshwater Resources: Application of Integrated Approaches to the Development, Management and Use of Water Resources'. Many of the presentations made in the ODA's conference in Southampton fall under the seven programme areas listed in Chapter 18: these include integrated water resources management, protection of aquatic ecosystems, water supply and sanitation and impact of climate change on water resources.

At a time of heightened awareness and increased interest in the requirements of developing countries for water resources, drought in parts of Africa continues to intensify and the problems of sharing the resources of international rivers such as the Zambezi, Nile, Jordan and Euphrates increase. Problems of drainage and salinity in major irrigation schemes escalate, irrigation increasingly competes with domestic water supply and hydro-power, and there is considerable interest in the consequences of possible climate change. The National Audit Office in its report on 'Overseas Aid: Water and the Environment' (May 1992) has made its recommendations following a review of 17 major ODA projects in the sector between 1977 and 1989. Donors, such as ODA, cannot necessarily increase the allocation of scarce cash resources to this sector (and statistics indicate that they are not doing so), but they can attempt to make their aid more effective by ensuring a more multi-disciplinary approach to project appraisal, design and implementation, and perhaps adopting new methods for co-ordinating the activities of the many entities involved in water management.

Against this background of international interest in water related issues the Conference's objectives were set. The aim was to create a baseline of common knowledge and expose ODA advisory groups to modern practices and current issues in water use and management. The conference also aimed to demonstrate a commitment to interdisciplinary working practices with the objective of maximising benefits from investment of aid in water use and management. The major objectives of the conference were to provide a framework of needs and opportunities in water resources allocation and management, develop a water resources strategy for action on priorities and establish an interdisciplinary working group.

The programme comprised eight sessions spread over two days in each of which two presentations were made followed by discussion. In this document the papers and a brief summary of discussions are given in the order of presentation, two each under the following headings:

· Priorities and conflicts in water resource development
· Issues in water resources management
· Domestic water use
· Urban and industrial water use
· Watershed management and land use
· Irrigation
· Aquatic resources
· The wider environment.

The full technical programme, summary of papers and working group conclusions are presented in a separate conference report. The results of working group deliberations which correspond with the above headings are summarised as key issues, main lessons and recommendations below

Key issues

1. Water is an important renewable but scarce resource in much of the developing world and is increasingly a key constraint on development.

2. There is increased demand from rapidly growing urban populations and the priority between urban and rural, domestic and industrial and agricultural demand has to be addressed. The distinction between minimum water needs and demand should be made.

3. Water should be treated as an economic good and fully valued.

4. Institutions involved in water provision and delivery need reforming.

5. Participatory methods should be used both with farmers and domestic consumers in the allocation and development of water resources.

6. Water resource planning needs to be reviewed and the use of watersheds as a management unit needs to be considered.
7. There is generally a lack of reliable data on processes involved; more appropriate and accessible information is required.

8. An holistic, systems view of water resource management is needed using an interdisciplinary approach to understand the interactions.

9. The key issues are related to management, social and institutional structures rather than technical matters.

Main lessons

1. Strategies need to be developed for the allocation of water.

2. There is scope for increased efficiency of water use and more re-cycling of water for agricultural and urban use.

3. Operation and maintenance issues must be addressed in project design.

4. Research into opportunities for on-site sanitation is needed given its low water demands.

5. The distinction between use and consumption should be drawn.

6. A flemble approach is needed to cope with change and uncertainty in particular climatic change.

7. ODA needs to broaden its interdisciplinary thinking.


1. ODA should establish a multi-disciplinary working group to define the key areas of a water resources strategy.

2. The water resources strategy should help ODA to define its policy and determine priorities for future research and development activities.

3. Water centred thinking should be integrated into ODA through Country Review Papers and other mechanisms.

4. The strategy should consider whether to focus water related activities in a few key areas or countries.

5. On the basis of the strategy, systems-based research programmes should be established across ODA's administrative divisions with a common fund. Priorities to be addressed would be:

· Further work to establish the full economic value of water and application of this to policy and projects wherever possible

· Determination of minimum water requirements for urban areas

· Research multiple uses and re-cycling of water

· Irrigation systems

· Coastal zone management

· Common property resources.