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Introduction to Integrated Water Resources Management  

The approach proposed within Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM): “Promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems” (GWP 2000).

The IWRM approach helps to manage and develop water resources in a sustainable and balanced way, taking account of social, economic, and environmental interests.” (GWP 2003).

IWRM is designed to coordinate actions across multiple sectors involving a range of stakeholders at local, national and international levels. This integrated approach is diagrammed below.

Cross-sectoral approach to IWRM.
Source: Global Water Partnership Technical Advisory Committee 2000
( click to enlarge )

Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) is a sub-set of IWRM and involves the implementation of IWRM at the basin level (IWR 2006). The existence of a national framework for IWRM is an important component of effective IRBM.


International Agreements provide the principles and framework for integrated IWRM. Two key international events in 1992 provided the impetus for formalising the principles of IWRM – the International Conference on Water and the Environment and the UN Conference on the Environment and Development.

The International Conference on Water and the Environment, held in Dublin, Ireland, established recommendations for action at the local, national and international levels based on the four guiding principles, which became known as the Dublin Principles (IRC 2006).

Dublin Principles

Pressing global water resource issues led to the development of the Dublin Principles at the International Conference on Water and the Environment, held in Dublin, Ireland, in January 1992. The Dublin Principles are at the heart of the concept of IWRM (IRC 2006).

The four guiding principles for managing freshwater resources contained within the Dublin Principles are (IRC 2006):

  • Freshwater is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment:
  • Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels;
  • Women play a central part in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water; and
  • Water has an economic value in all its competing uses, and should be recognised as an Economic Good.

The Dublin Principles were subsequently presented to the World Leaders at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

The importance of transboundary water management was subsequently recognised in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in Chapter 18 of Agenda 21, a non-binding action plan adopted by United Nations Conference on Environment and Development participants (Giordano & Wolf 2003).

Following the Dublin conference, the UN Conference on the Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro. Here the so-called Agenda 21 was released, which links development with the environment, and promotes the global management of freshwater and, in general, adopted an integrated approach to water management.

Access an official copy of the United Nations Documents version of the Dublin Principles (1992) and Agenda 21.




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

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Explore the principles of Integrated Water Resource Management applied to the Kunene