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close this bookFreshwater Resources in Arid Lands (UNU, 1997, 94 p.)
close this folder1: Fresh water - A scarce resource in arid lands
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentInternational efforts
View the documentFresh water - A limited resource
View the documentA personal history
View the documentTraditional wisdom
View the documentProblems of major continental aquifers
View the documentThe Aral crisis - Ecocide in arid lands
View the documentHydropolitics along the Jordan river basin and the Dead Sea
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences


The International Conference on Water and Environment (ICWE) held in Dublin in January 1992 provided the major input on freshwater problems to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), calling attention to the serious problem of optimizing the use of freshwater resources in the years ahead.

The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development

Scarcity and misuse of freshwater pose a serious threat to sustainable development and protection of the environment. Human health and welfare, food security, industrial development and the ecosystem on which they depend, are managed more effectively in the present decade and beyond than they have been in the past.

The problems highlighted are not speculative in nature; nor are they likely to affect our planet only in the distant future. They are here and they affect humanity now. The future survival of many millions of people demands immediate and effective action.

The conference participants call for fundamental new approaches to the assessment, development and management of freshwater resources, which can only be brought about through political commitment and involvement from the highest levels of government to the smallest communities. Commitment will need to be backed by substantial and immediate investments, public awareness campaigns, legislative and institutional changes, technology development, and capacity building programmes. Underlying all these must be a greater recognition of the interdependence of all peoples, and of their place in the natural world.

The Conference also stated that concrete action is needed to reverse the present trends of over-consumption, pollution, and rising threats from droughts and floods. Recommendations for action at the local, national, and international levels were set out based on four guiding principles:

· Principle No. 1: fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development, and the environment.

· Principle No. 2: water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners, and policy makers at all levels.

· Principle No. 3: women play a central part in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water.

· Principle No. 4: Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.

Based on these principles, the Conference developed a series of recommendations that also form a framework for the planning of the International Hydrological Programme.

Freshwater issues also came up at the International Conference on an Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the Twenty-first Century (ASCEND 21) which was convened by the International Commission for Scientific Union (ICSU) in Vienna in November 1991 in order to make a contribution to the formulation of the future directions of world science as well as to the preparation of UNCED. Amongst the major problems that affect the environment and hinder sustainable development, and that are to be of the highest scientific priority, the problem of water scarcity was also pinpointed. ASCEND recommended, inter alia:

· Strengthened support for international global environmental research and observation of the total earth system;

· Research and studies at the local and regional scale on the hydrologic cycle, impacts of climate change, coastal zones, loss of biodiversity, vulnerability of fragile ecosystems, and on the impacts of changing land use, of waste, and of human attitudes and behaviour;

· Special efforts in education and in building up of scientific institutions, as well as involvement of a wide segment of the population in environment and development problem solving.

After UNCED, Agenda 21 was concluded and chapter 18 (Protection of the quality and supply of fresh water) was presented to all nations concerned. Chapter 18 contains the following text:

Protection of the quality and supply of freshwater resources: Application of integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources

18.1 Freshwater resources are an essential component of the Earth's hydrosphere and an indispensable part of all terrestrial ecosystems. The freshwater environment is characterized by the hydrological cycle, including floods and droughts, which in some regions have become more extreme and dramatic in their consequences. Global climate change and atmospheric pollution could also have an impact on freshwater resources and their availability and, through sea level rise, threaten low-lying coastal areas and small island ecosystems.

18.2 Water is needed in all aspects of life. The general objective is to make certain that adequate supplies of water of good quality are maintained for the entire population of this planet, while preserving the hydrological, biological and chemical functions of ecosystems, adapting human activities within the capacity limits of nature and combating vectors of water-related diseases. Innovative technologies, including the improvement of indigenous technologies, are needed to fully utilize water resources and to safeguard those resources against pollution.

18.3 The widespread scarcity, gradual destruction and aggravated pollution of freshwater resources in many world regions, along with the progressive encroachment of incompatible activities, demand integrated water resources planning and management. Such integration must cover all types of interrelated freshwater bodies, including both surface water and groundwater should consider water quantity and quality aspects. The multisectoral nature of water resources development in the context of socio-economic development must be recognized, as well as the multi-interest utilization of water resources for water supply and sanitation, agriculture, industry, urban development, hydropower generation, inland fisheries, transportation, recreation, low and flat lands management and other activities. Rational water utilization schemes for the development of surface and underground water-supply sources and other potential sources have to be supported by concurrent water conservation and wastage minimization measures. Priority, however, must be accorded to flood prevention and control measures, as well as sedimentation control, where required.

18.4 Transboundary water resources and their use are of great importance to riparian States. In this connection, cooperation among States may be desirable in conformity with existing agreements and/or other relevant arrangements, taking into account the interests of all riparian States concerned.

18.5 The following programme areas are proposed for the freshwater sector:

(a) Integrated water resources development and management;
(b) Water resources assessment;
(c) Protection of water resources, water quality and aquatic ecosystems;
(d) Drinking water supply and sanitation;
(e) Water and sustainable urban development;
(f) Water for sustainable food production and rural development;
(g) Impacts of climate change on water resources.