The Basics of IWRM Planning

IWRM planning is a strategic approach aiming to resolve the root causes of water-related problems rather than tackling its symptoms (CapNet UNDP and GWP, 2005). Those involved in the IWRM planning cycle must adopt a long-term vision, consider, and understand the underlying causes of water-related problems, and reflect on the pros and cons of various potential options and scenarios. IWRM planning processes should be participatory rather than State-centered. Multi-stakeholder participation must also be reflected in all phases of IWRM planning, from the design to the implementation and evaluation of developed and approved plans.  

The creation of specific management plans for certain sub-sectors related to water management (e.g., waste management, flood or drought management) or at certain scales (e.g., basin, municipal, coastal area), allows water professionals to target key issues in an integrated and collaborative manner. That said, these plans should not be thought of as a replacement to a National IWRM Plan, rather they support this plan with detailed guidance in a specific sub-sector or geographic area. National IWRM Plans (Tool A3.01) are in that sense the “master plan” which are supported by sub-sectoral plans such as those introduced in this sub-section. These plans constitute the operational strategies laying out specific measures and approaches to achieve the goals and objectives set in policies (Tools A1). They must be aligned and enforced with the use of legal frameworks (Tools A2).  

The IWRM Planning Cycle

Planning for IWRM implementation is an iterative process. This iterative process applies to both the National IWRM plans and to sub-sectoral plans. Figure 1 provides an overview of the key steps/stages in a typical planning cycle for IWRM Implementation.  


Figure 1. Planning Cycle for Adjusting and Developing IWRM Implementation. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005) 

1. Initiation: The IWRM planning process is usually triggered by an internal or external impetus highlighting the need for better practices (Figure 2). External triggers can span from international discussions and forums which yield treaties and various water and sustainable development principles. Internally, issues of water pollution, water scarcity, and increasing public demand and competition can force governments to initiate the planning process for IWRM. Once the government and various stakeholders agree that IWRM planning and its eventual implementation is a necessity, the conceptual process can begin, as interests are now translated into political commitment. Other initiating activities must include raising awareness of principles related to IWRM and establishing a management team. Once the management team is established it is important to raise awareness within the team so there will be a commitment to the planning process based on IWRM principles.


Figure 2. Initiation Phase Flow Diagram. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005) 

2. Developing the Work Plan: This stage of the planning cycle speaks to the preparation of the work for producing an IWRM plan. Here, mobilisation of the team, developing the work plan, bringing in the correct stakeholders and ensuring political commitment is extremely important in the startup planning process (Figure 3). In the development of the work plan, one should expect to mobilise, gain political commitment, allow participation, and build capacity. 


Figure 3. Mobilisation Phase Flow Diagram. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005) 

3. Establishing the Strategic Vision: A vision can be described as a statement which speaks to a future state and usually gives a time period of 20 years, (e.g., The Africa Water Vision for 2025). Such visions are important in guiding the planning process, as it gives a long-term perspective. Four key areas for consideration when developing a water vision are: i) examine existing water policies or visions for consistency with sustainable development, ii) ensure sufficient understanding of IWRM, iii) incorporation of the views of stakeholders, and iv) achieve political commitment to the vision or policy (Figure 4).   


Figure 4. Vision and Policy Statement Flow Diagram. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005)  

4. Situation Analysis: Characterising the present situation when planning for IWRM implementation is crucial. This type of analysis helps us to examine the key factors of influence in each situation and gives a baseline, allowing practitioners to understand which direction they need to go (Figure 5). Assessment instruments (Tools C1) support this process and they can encompass; i) institutional and legal analysis, ii) hydrological and hydrogeological assessment, iii) environmental impact assessment, iv) social assessment and v) risk and vulnerability assessment.  


Figure 5. Situation Analysis Flow Diagram. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005)

5. Water Management Strategy and Options Identified: Many issues and solutions will be presented by stakeholders consulted; however, these proposals must be streamlined and clearly articulated and agreed upon. To do this, start with the vision as a statement of intent, then use strategic goals to allow you to describe how the vision can be achieved. Measurable activities for each goal must then be described by targets as this forms the core of the action plan, provides focus to resource usage, and guides the selection of options for action (Figure 6).   


Figure 6. Water Management Strategy Flow Diagram. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005)  

6. IWRM Plan Prepared and Approved: At this stage of the planning cycle the previously agreed upon strategy must be operationalised into a consolidated and feasible plan which details; i) what must be done, ii) by whom, iii) when, and iv) with what resources (Figure 7). Four key areas that should be answered when attempting to write the plan, include i) the content of the plan, ii) political and public participation, iii) timeframe for completion of the plan, and iv) who writes the plan.  


Figure 7. Management Plan Flow Diagram. Source: CapNet UNDP and GWP (2005)

7. Implementation: The implementation phase remains a challenge for many nations who attempt implementing IWRM (Acheampong, Swilling, and Urama, 2016). Obtaining the plan is a milestone but should not be seen as the end (CapNet UNDP and GWP,2005). At this stage, the roles and functions previously prescribed in the strategy and plan must be operationalised, towards determining the impact made on water resources management during the upcoming M&E process. It is important to ensure that IWRM is institutionalized into government’s system via the highest level of endorsement and establish “champions” which catalyse and pursue the policy and implementation process (Anukularmphai, 2010) (Tools B).  

8. Monitoring and Evaluation: M&E involves four critical areas; i) monitoring the process of implementation towards ensuring strategies outlined in the plan are actioned, ii) monitoring the outcomes of those actions, e.g., infrastructure investments, policy change, and institutional frameworks, iii) evaluating the progress towards the achievement of goals and objectives, and iv) using information gained to refine the strategy and to inform decision making (GWP,2006). Monitoring indicators allows us to assess this progress by answering key questions, i) where are we now? ii) where do we want to go? iii) are we taking the right path to get there and iv) are we there yet? (GWP, 2006). Monitoring and Evaluation Bodies (Tool B1.03) provide support in this instance. Such bodies can assist in data production and processing regarding the implementation of IWRM. The Country Survey Instrument for SDG Indicator 6.5.1 “Degree of integrated water resources management implementation”  also serves as an entry point into assessing progress at the country level.  


Key Ingredients and Enablers for Effective IWRM Planning

Below are a few key enablers that can help accelerate progress on IWRM planning (UN Water,2021). Those involved in planning processes must however be cautioned that there is no set blueprint for IWRM planning, and each country must adapt, develop, and adjust to suit its country-specific political, socio-economic, environmental, and cultural conditions (Anukularmphai, 2010). 

  • Stronger Political Will: There is a need for targeted advocacy and communication regarding the value of IWRM implementation towards gaining the necessary political support of influential stakeholders. Efforts and resources should be targeted at valuing water across society (Tool C5.04), targeted communication (Tool C5.02), monitoring and evaluation systems (Tool C2.05), transparency and accountability (Tool B1.05) and justifying the need for financing IWRM in budgets. 
  • Coordinated and Aligned Institutional Arrangements: Coordination across sectors, within and outside of water communities that cover institutional and policy frameworks as well as coordination between national and basin levels are important (Tool B3.02). Practitioners must ensure; i) law(s) that mandates an authority to coordinate the planning and financing of water resources management (GoRTT, 2016), ii) ensuring there is an authority with an intersectoral structure with a clear mandate for coordinating activities amongst various authorities and establishing a coordination mechanism (GoRTT,2016), iii) identify all government and non-government institutions with an interest in water resources and their roles towards identifying and consolidating institutional responsibilities to avoid overlap, and iv) advance on plans by developing strategic and operational plans for IWRM implementation at relevant levels (national, subnational, and basin levels (Tools A3)) with broad stakeholder input. 
  • Inclusive Stakeholder Participation: Private sector participation is also needed whilst considering gender mainstreaming (Tools B5), and vulnerable groups (Leave No One Behind LNOB). Attention should be directed towards advocacy organisations (Tool B3.03), increasing awareness, and the understanding of the multiple uses of water in all stakeholder groups (Tool B3.05). The use of effective frameworks for participation such as the Aarhus Convention, and including private sector (Tool B2.02) business representatives on basin councils towards promoting the establishment of Water Funds and Investments for Watershed Services programmes (Tools D1 and Tools D2). 
  • Capacity Development: Knowledge and experience exchange is a prerequisite skill set needed for a team to coordinate the planning process. Information gathering and sharing (Tool B4.01) and training water professionals (Tool B4.02) programmes can facilitate advancing institutional capacity (Tool B4). It is important to dedicate time towards such programmes for staff in institutions and consider incentives to avoid “brain drain”, invest in human and technological capacity to allow coordination in resource management and collection. Also, build capacity across sectors, for example energy and agriculture (Tool C1.09), and increase the awareness of IWRM principles to secure holistic political and social buy-in. 
  • Data and Information Management: Data and information sharing arrangements which provide monitoring data on, for instance, (water quantity and quality) (Tool B4.01) is needed for informed decision making in the planning process. This also provides the data which feeds environmental assessment and economic instruments such as disaster risk reduction (Tool C1.01 and Tool C1.02), ecosystem management (Tool C1.05), EIAs (Tool C1.06), pollution control (Tool C4.04), and payment for ecosystem services (Tool C4.06). Consideration should be given to; i) online information systems which compile data from different entities, ii) secure funding for establishing monitoring networks, data sharing protocols to harmonise and standardise data collection, and iii) facilitate broad data sources by encouraging the private sector, NGOs, international partners, and academic institutions. The right mix of decision support tools (Tools C2) can obtain maximum benefits in IWRM planning 
  • Coordinated and Transparent Financing: IWRM planning requires a lot of financial resources which cannot be underestimated. Tools D1 and Tools D2 provides some guidance on building a water investment rationale and current financing strategies and principles towards improving financing. UN Water (2021) described; (i) increasing direct central government investment backed by an adequate policy; (ii) raising revenue from traditional and non-traditional water and ecosystem services (Tool C4.06); and (iii) transparency, anti-corruption and accountability (Tool B1.05) as focus areas for finance. Improving the existing enabling environment (i.e., water policies (Tools A1) and law(s) (Tools A2)) to ensure raising revenue and allocation of funding for IWRM activities is critical towards supporting transparent financing.  
Sub-Section Overview 

This sub-section provides an overview of the various types of sub-sectoral plans that should be considered when planning for overall IWRM implementation. It discusses strategic instruments and frameworks, on how to develop and manage different types of water resources at various levels, adaptation, as well as proactively managing water-related disasters. These include:  

  • National IWRM Plans (Tool A3.01): National IWRM plans can be used to plan the coordinated development and management of water resources towards maximising socio-economic and environmental wellbeing. It highlights the important role these plans play in tackling water-related problems like water allocation and pollution serving as a road map which details the milestones towards improved water resource management.  
  • Basin Management Plans (Tool A3.02): Since water does not flow according to administrative and political boundaries, planning for water resources management makes more sense according to basin boundaries. Basin Management Plans are action-oriented frameworks that can be used to describe how water and related land resources should be developed.   
  • Groundwater Management Plans (Tool A3.03): Groundwater is a water resource that is often mismanaged due to its unseen nature. Groundwater Management Plans seek to address issues related to pollution, over-abstraction, lack of data/information management, and administrative fragmentation.  
  • Coastal Zone Management Plans (Tool A3.04): The concept of Integrated Coastal Zone Management assesses the synergistic relationship between terrestrial, marine, and coastal environments, and the interdependencies of activities in these sub-regions. Coastal Zone Management Plans provide an instrument which can be used towards achieving sustainable development within coastal zones.  
  • Integrated Urban Water Management Plans (Tool A3.05): Consideration of the urban water landscape is important due to increasing urban water demand and pollution. Integrated Urban Water Management can be used to guide actions to ensure safe water supply to urban and peri-urban areas. 
  • Integrated Drought Management Plans (IDMP) and Integrated Flood Management Plans (IFMP) (Tool A3.06) and (Tool A3.07): Water-related disasters often threaten the sustainable development of water resources. IDMP and IFMP are plans which place emphasis on the need for a proactive approach in the management and minimising loss from water-related disasters, rather than being reactive.  
  • National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) (Tool A3.08): NAPs strategically address and respond to climate change’s present and future effects. These are important towards reducing vulnerabilities and promoting the integration of adaptation measures within policies and development strategies at all levels.  
A3 Planning for IWRM Implementation
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