UN-Water Survey Examines Water Law Reform

Twenty years ago this June world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro for an Earth Summit to develop an action plan for sustainable development.

Twenty years ago this June world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro for an Earth Summit to develop an action plan for sustainable development. They discussed a wide variety of topics including climate change, alternative sources of energy to replace fossil fuel and the growing scarcity of water.

This June, world leaders will gather once again for the Rio+20 Conference to examine the progress that has been made. According to a recent UN-Water survey, over 80 percent of countries have reformed their water laws in the past 20 years as a response to growing pressures on water resources from expanding populations, urbanization and climate change.

The survey focused on progress toward the implementation of internationally agreed approaches to the management and use of water, known as Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). Backed by UN Member States at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit as part of an overall action plan on sustainable development (known as Agenda 21), IWRM was seen as a way forward for efficient, equitable and sustainable development and management of the world's limited water resources.

The survey asked governments for their feedback on governance, infrastructure, financing, and other areas relating to water management, to gauge how successful countries have been in moving towards IWRM.

The survey, not surprisingly, found that introduction of water management on a national level varies greatly across the globe – from early planning stages in some countries to concrete implementation of new laws and policies in others.

In many cases, water reforms have led to improvements in drinking water access, human health and water efficiency in agriculture. At the same time, global progress has been slower where irrigation, rainwater harvesting and investment in freshwater ecosystem services are concerned.

Overall, 90 percent of countries surveyed reported a range of positive impacts from integrated approaches to water management. However, a majority of countries feel that water-related risks and the competition for water resources have increased over the past 20 years.

Financing for infrastructure development and for water resources management were listed as top concerns for a majority of countries surveyed. Climate change was cited as a high priority for action in a majority of countries, with most seeing it as a growing threat since 1992.

The survey includes a number of suggested targets and recommendations designed to inform decision-makers at Rio+20. These included a recommendation that by 2015, each country develop specific targets and timeframes for preparing and implementing a program of action and financing strategy for IWRM. The survey authors also noted the need for increased levels of financing and an improvement in the institutional framework for water resources management – especially focusing on developing countries.

The Rio+20 website includes a page devoted to the World's Water: http://www.un.org/en/sustainablefuture/water.shtml. It includes facts, figures, stories and interesting videos. You can also find a list of links to various water programs around the world.

James Laughlin, Editor

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