Water is fundamental for sustainable development. It affects inter alia sanitation, health, poverty alleviation, disaster reduction, and ecosystem conservation, and cuts across all eight Millennium Development Goals, in particular MDG 7 and its target to reduce, by half, the proportion of the 2.6 billion people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. In addition, the ever growing vulnerability that is induced by global and local changes such as population changes, climate changes and variability, socio-economic issues and environmental degradation, can result in increasing both the frequency and severity of extreme events, including droughts and floods.
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) can play a key role in addressing these needs and challenges. However, progress towards implementing IWRM has so far varied widely depending on the area, capacity, political will, and understanding of IWRM concepts and their implementation. Implementing IWRM at the river basin level is an essential element to managing water resources more sustainably, leading to long-term social, economic and environmental benefits. Because water is managed locally, a river basin approach provides a practical framework, defined by geographical and hydrological characteristics, which facilitates implementation of IWRM by involving downstream and upstream basin wide issues as well as incorporating environmental and socio-economic aspects. To this end, UNESCOʼs International Hydrological Programme (IHP), following the issuance of its 2007–2008 review report titled ʻIWRM Implementation in Basins, Sub-basins and Aquifers: State of the Art Reviewʼ realized the need for an instruction manual that synthesizes practical methodologies for IWRM at the river basin level.
The IWRM Guidelines at River Basin Level were successfully launched by the Director-General of UNESCO at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey in March 2009. Since the World Water Forum, many IWRM related capacity development activities have already been conducted by the IHP and UNESCO’s water family.
The guidelines are meant to be a living document – users are therefore invited to use these materials interactively with the project team, and contribute to its improvement with suggestions on methodology as well as by introducing new case studies. It is expected that these Guidelines will assist water practitioners in finding better and more efficient solutions to day-to-day problems, as well as play a catalytic role in promoting holistic integrated actions amongst all water practitioners, ultimately leading to more sustainable societies.