The water cycle as a guiding principle for integrated resource management

By: Aikaterini Tsakanika


UNDP Water and Ocean Vision: “To achieve integrated, climate-resilient, sustainable and equitable management of water and ocean resources, and universal access to safe water supply and sanitation, through improved water and ocean governance”



The separation of natural ecosystems into territorial units is a construction intended to identify socio-ecological services of each ecosystem to aid in the public policy processes. But is this strategy helping us to protect natural environments and secure the sustainable use of natural resources?

The belief that natural resources should be treated as isolated units, and, therefore, managed separately, poorly follows the natural ecosystems’ dynamics; for instance, fauna immigration patterns or the ecosystem’s expansion in relation to the surrounding neighbor territories. Even more so, the element of water as a communicating vessel among inland and coastal ecosystems is ignored in zoning efforts, although inland water courses, estuaries and hydrological regions are recognized to be excellent natural points, or corridors, for material and nutritional exchanges with the surrounding natural ecosystems.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reinforces a more holistic vision for policymaking and management schemes regarding natural resources and promotes the consideration of the water cycle, as is explicitly cited in the progress report of the SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). The water cycle is the continuous movement of water: oceans supply inland ecosystems with fresh water through rainfall, while inland water falls back to the oceans regulating the coastal ecosystems. Increased variability in any of its four stages (evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection) impact the quality or quantity of fresh water and may destabilize proportionally inland, coastal and oceanic ecosystems.

Though the water cycle is a global natural phenomenon, such changes also have a profound regional and local impact, especially in the coastal areas and islands, by defining freshwater availability, among other things. The importance of aligning water availability, allocation and demand under those circumstances justify the majoritarian responsiveness of the signatory countries of the 2030 Agenda in regards to the implementation of national integrated water resource management plans.

In this vein, the UNDP makes continuous efforts to promote and to mainstream a more integrated policymaking culture at all levels (global, national, regional and local), considering the potential to optimize the required managerial efforts and financial resources which become more and more insufficient due to growing pressures on ecosystems. Particularly, the UNDP’s Water and Ocean Governance Programme for the period 2014-2017 is promoting both the integrated and efficient use of water resources, as well as the restoration of ocean and marine ecosystems as key elements for sustainable development.


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UNDP work on water and ocean governance at multiple levels; Source: UNDP's Water and Ocean Governance Programme for the period 2014-2017


The UNDP acknowledges that much progress still needs to be made; governance and management systems of interlinked coastal/marine and freshwater systems have certain implications and raise new challenges related to territorial authority and distribution of responsibility. In response, the UNDP Strategic Plan 2014-2017 aspires to strengthen governance, capacity development, as well as key water and oceans institutions being necessary elements for the integration of the water cycle into the strategic development rationale.

Moreover, the UNDP Water Governance Facility in collaboration with the SIWI, through its Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management (S2S Platform), is launching a Source-to-Sea (S2S) Management webinar series: 5 online courses that aim to frame the links between the SDG 6 on freshwater and the SDG 14 on oceans, starting from 20 April 2017.

Photo credit: Pixabay/CC0