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50 Years of Water Programmes for Sustainable Development


50 Years Water Programmes
© UNESCO/Carlos Neto

Milestones and main achievements (1965-2015)

The International Hydrological Decade (IHD): 'an outstanding example of international scientific and technical cooperation' (1965 – 1975)

The International Hydrological Decade (IHD) enabled collaboration between over 100 countries, bringing about important scientific and practical results, notably by:
  • helping to develop a rational attitude towards the utilization and management of the water resources of the earth;
  • contributing to the understanding of the processes and phenomena occurring in the hydrosphere;
  • assessing the surface and groundwater resources and their variability;
  • facilitating the international cooperation necessary to conduct research and to compile scientific and technical data necessary to provide guidelines and information for the advancement of hydrological sciences;
  • promoting research, education, training and technical assistance in hydrology, as well as facilitating the development of hydrology programmes, not only within UNESCO, but also in relation to other UN organizations and NGOs.

Sustaining the Efforts of IHD: the First Phases of IHP (1975 – 2001)

Through its first phases, starting from 1975, IHP played an important role in:
  • contributing to the assessment of water resources;
  • developing methodologies of water management;
  • improving knowledge of hydrological processes;
  • providing an effective transfer of technology, with significant contributions from postgraduate courses in training competent hydrologists and developing hydrological knowledge, including educational material; and
  • transmitting and exchanging knowledge through its publications.
While recognizing that IHP’s first phases had been instrumental in promoting hydrological sciences, an external evaluation in 2003 on IHP’s fifth phase suggested to broaden the scope of IHP beyond purely scientific hydrological concerns. From its sixth phase on, the Programme began to focus primarily on water resource management and related cultural, societal and capacity building issues, evolving from a ‘pure science only’ ethos to one of ‘science within society’.

IHP-VI onwards: Shifting to a Holistic and Integrated Approach

The Sixth Phase of IHP (2002 – 2007) represented an important turning point for the Programme, whose focus shifted from studying the occurrence and distribution of water in the environment towards societal aspects of water resources, highlighting the need for better assessment and management, in particular at the transboundary level. In particular, the Programme:
  • created a network of water professionals at all levels;
  • influenced policymaking, research and capacity building, highlighting the fact that institutional and economic issues are fundamental to the efficient use of water, conservation and depletion;
  • produced action-oriented and policy-relevant activities and outcomes in support of the ‘global agenda for sustainability’, through training and capacity development in the field of water governance;
  • encouraged national activities through programmes broadly found to be comprehensive, relevant and useful to almost all countries;
  • addressed Member States as main audience, through National Committees and the UNESCO Water Family, in collaboration with governmental bodies, NGOs, and academic and research institutions;
  • strong global relevance, enhanced by IHP’s work with and inside developing nations, promoting South-South and North-South exchanges, its ability to propose conventions and take an active role in the prevention of water conflicts, and its contributions to the WWDRs.
  • mobilized scientific opinion with only limited resources;
IHP's Eighth Phase (2014-2021) focuses on reaching ‘Water Security: Responses to Local, Regional and Global Challenges’ through six themes:
Water Security: IHP-VIII themes
To better assist Member States in their journeys towards water sustainability, IHP strives to capitalize on past achievements to score new ones. The UNESCO Water Family is instrumental to this endeavour and, today, counts more than sixty water-related Centres and Chairs, 169 National Committees, the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and the World Water Assessment Programme, in addition to scientific experts at the Paris headquarters and in UNESCO field offices.