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Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) seeks to reconcile a country's demand for water resources with the limitations of what those water resources can give. The Global Water Partnership defines IWRM as a process that promotes coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources in river basins to maximize the economic benefits and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems. It is recognized by many countries around the world as a model for establishing good water governance.

IWRM in Asia's river basins

Some of the problems faced by many of Asia's river basins include increased flooding upstream, more frequent droughts downstream, agricultural encroachment on wetlands, reduced agricultural production, and declining biodiversity. To address these problems, governments and communities are introducing new ways of managing and sharing water resources. These include formulating the basic legal framework that determines who has the authority to manage the basin and setting up institutions—from river basin organizations to committees to water user groups—that help integrate and manage the multiple demands on the river's resources.

ADB recognizes that Asia's river basins need to be managed in integrated ways that promote equitable sharing of water resources while preserving the environment. It promotes investments in the infrastructure and management of water regulation and hydropower facilities, flood management, and watershed and wetlands conservation. ADB has developed a list of IWRM elements and a generic roadmap to help practitioners introduce IWRM in Asia's river basins.

Helping to introduce IWRM in Asia's river basin

ADB's Water Financing Program (WFP) targets the introduction of IWRM in 30 river basins across the region. Introducing IWRM in a river basin needs a positive enabling environment, clear institutional roles, and practical management instruments. The process can be anchored, and its achievements monitored, through

  • a capable river basin organization
  • institutionalized stakeholder participation
  • comprehensive river basin planning and monitoring

At the national level, the enabling environment includes an effective water policy, updated legislation, and conducive financing and incentive structures.

Among the issues to be addressed through the enabling environment are cost sharing and recovery, water use rights, and responsibilities of national water apex body, river basin organizations, local governments, service providers, water user organizations, and the private sector.

Investing in Asia's river basins

Under WFP, ADB has committed to doubling its water investments during 2006-2010 to well over $2 billion per year. The overall target for ADB's lending under WFP 2011-2020 is $20 billion, of which basin water investments are expected to contribute approximately 25%. Under this scenario, ADB seeks to increase basin water investments under WFP to approximately $5 billion. To deliver the additional investments, ADB needs to expand its basin water operations with long-term IWRM investment programs in river basins that include infrastructure, management reforms, and capacity development.

Water governance—how people and their institutions work together, make correct investment decisions, and implement them effectively—is key to delivering sustainable solutions to immediate problems. Therefore, stakeholder participation, local actions, and ownership are necessary building blocks for achieving IWRM in river basins. Stakeholders' active and informed participation in planning and decision-making for integrated investment programs, including water resources allocation, conflict resolution, and trade-off choices, is central to IWRM's success.

Network of Asian river basin organizations

The Network of Asian River Basin Organizations (NARBO) was established to share knowledge and build capacity for IWRM in river basins throughout the Asia and Pacific region. ADB, ADB Institute, and the Japan Water Agency supported NARBO's establishment in 2003, with these objectives:

  • Exchange of information and experience among river basin organizations in Asia
  • Strengthen river basin organizations' capacity and effectiveness in promoting IWRM and improving water governance

The three agencies, and recently the Center for River Basin Organizations and Management (CRBOM), act as NARBO's Secretariat to create synergy and strengthen regional cooperation in the water sector among developing countries and development partners in the region. NARBO's activities focus on

  • Promoting advocacy and raising awareness for IWRM
  • Establishing river basin organizations
  • Sharing information, good practices and lessons learned by river basin organizations
  • Supporting NARBO members to improve water governance
  • Improving water governance for IWRM
  • Building capacity of river basin organizations to implement IWRM
  • Fostering regional cooperation for transboundary river basins