The Dublin Statement on
Water and Sustainable Development
INTRODUCTIONScarcity and misuse of fresh water pose a serious and growing threat to
sustainable development and protection of the environment. Human health and
welfare, food security, industrial development and the ecosystems on which they
depend, are all at risk, unless water and land resources are managed more
effectively in the present decade and beyond than they have been in the
Five hundred participants, including
government-designated experts from a hundred countries and representatives of
eighty international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations
attended the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) in
Dublin, Ireland, on 26■31 January 1992. The experts saw the emerging global
water resources picture as critical. At its closing session, the Conference
adopted this Dublin Statement and the Conference Report. The problems
highlighted are not speculative in nature; nor are they likely to affect our
planet only in the distant future. They are here and they affect humanity now.
The future survival of many millions of people demands immediate and effective
The Conference participants call for
fundamental new approaches to the assessment, development and management of
freshwater resources, which can only be brought about through political
commitment and involvement from the highest levels of government to the smallest
communities. Commitment will need to be backed by substantial and immediate
investments, public awareness campaigns, legislative and institutional changes,
technology development, and capacity building programmes. Underlying all these
must be a greater recognition of the interdependence of all peoples, and of
their place in the natural world.
In commending this Dublin Statement to
the world leaders assembled at the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, the Conference participants
urge all governments to study carefully the specific activities and means of
implementation recommended in the Conference Report, and to translate those
recommendations into urgent action programmes for
WATER AND SUSTAINABLE
action is needed to reverse the present trends of overconsumption, pollution,
and rising threats from drought and floods. The Conference Report sets out
recommendations for action at local, national and international levels, based on
four guiding principles.
Principle No. 1 - Fresh water
is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and
the environmentSince water
sustains life, effective management of water resources demands a holistic
approach, linking social and economic development with protection of natural
ecosystems. Effective management links land and water uses across the whole of a
catchment area or groundwater aquifer.
Principle No. 2 - Water
development and management should be based on a participatory approach,
involving users, planners and policy-makers at all
approach involves raising awareness of the importance of water among
policy-makers and the general public. It means that decisions are taken at the
lowest appropriate level, with full public consultation and involvement of users
in the planning and implementation of water projects.
Principle No. 3 - Women play a
central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of
waterThis pivotal role of
women as providers and users of water and guardians of the living environment
has seldom been reflected in institutional arrangements for the development and
management of water resources. Acceptance and implementation of this principle
requires positive policies to address women■s specific needs and to equip and
empower women to participate at all levels in water resources programmes,
including decision-making and implementation, in ways defined by
Principle No. 4 - Water has an
economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic
goodWithin this principle, it
is vital to recognize first the basic right of all human beings to have access
to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price. Past failure to recognize
the economic value of water has led to wasteful and environmentally damaging
uses of the resource. Managing water as an economic good is an important way of
achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and
protection of water resources.
AGENDABased on these
four guiding principles, the Conference participants developed recommendations
which enable countries to tackle their water resources problems on a wide range
of fronts. The major benefits to come from implementation of the Dublin
recommendations will be:
poverty and diseaseAt the
start of the 1990s, more than a quarter of the world■s population still lack the
basic human needs of enough food to eat, a clean water supply and hygienic means
of sanitation. The Conference recommends that priority be given in water
resources development and management to the accelerated provision of food, water
and sanitation to these unserved millions.
natural disastersLack of
preparedness, often aggravated by lack of data, means that droughts and floods
take a huge toll in deaths, misery and economic loss. Economic losses from
natural disasters, including floods and droughts, increased three-fold between
the 1960s and the 1980s. Development is being set back for years in some
developing countries, because investments have not been made in basic data
collection and disaster preparedness. Projected climate change and rising
sea-levels will intensify the risk for some, while also threatening the apparent
security of existing water resources.
Damages and loss of life from floods and
droughts can be drastically reduced by the disaster preparedness actions
recommended in the Dublin Conference Report.
and reuseCurrent patterns of
water use involve excessive waste. There is great scope for water savings in
agriculture, in industry and in domestic water supplies.
Irrigated agriculture accounts for about
80% of water withdrawals in the world. In many irrigation schemes, up to 60% of
this water is lost on its way from the source to the plant. More efficient
irrigation practices will lead to substantial freshwater savings.
Recycling could reduce the consumption
of many industrial consumers by 50% or more, with the additional benefit of
reduced pollution. Application of the "polluter pays" principle and realistic
water pricing will encourage conservation and reuse. On average, 36% of the
water produced by urban water utilities in developing countries is "unaccounted
for". Better management could reduce these costly losses.
Combined savings in agriculture,
industry and domestic water supplies could significantly defer investment in
costly new water-resource development and have enormous impact on the
sustainability of future supplies. More savings will come from multiple use of
water. Compliance with effective discharge standards, based on new water
protection objectives, will enable successive downstream consumers to reuse
water which presently is too contaminated after the first use.
of urban growth is threatened by curtailment of the copious supplies of cheap
water, as a result of the depletion and degradation caused by past profligacy.
After a generation or more of excessive water use and reckless discharge of
municipal and industrial wastes, the situation in the majority of the world■s
major cities is appalling and getting worse. As water scarcity and pollution
force development of ever more distant sources, marginal costs of meeting fresh
demands are growing rapidly. Future guaranteed supplies must be based on
appropriate water charges and discharge controls. Residual contamination of land
and water can no longer be seen as a reasonable trade-off for the jobs and
prosperity brought by industrial growth.
Agricultural production and
rural water supplyAchieving
food security is a high priority in many countries, and agriculture must not
only provide food for rising populations, but also save water for other uses.
The challenge is to develop and apply water-saving technology and management
methods, and, through capacity building, enable communities to introduce
institutions and incentives for the rural population to adopt new approaches,
for both rainfed and irrigated agriculture. The rural population must also have
better access to a potable water supply and to sanitation services. It is an
immense task, but not an impossible one, provided appropriate policies and
programmes are adopted at all levels■local, national and
ecosystemsWater is a vital
part of the environment and a home for many forms of life on which the
well-being of humans ultimately depends. Disruption of flows has reduced the
productivity of many such ecosystems, devastated fisheries, agriculture and
grazing, and marginalized the rural communities which rely on these. Various
kinds of pollution, including transboundary pollution, exacerbate these
problems, degrade water supplies, require more expensive water treatment,
destroy aquatic fauna, and deny recreation opportunities.
Integrated management of river basins
provides the opportunity to safeguard aquatic ecosystems, and make their
benefits available to society on a sustainable basis.
conflictsThe most appropriate
geographical entity for the planning and management of water resources is the
river basin, including surface and groundwater. Ideally, the effective
integrated planning and development of transboundary river or lake basins has
similar institutional requirements to a basin entirely within one country. The
essential function of existing international basin organizations is one of
reconciling and harmonizing the interests of riparian countries, monitoring
water quantity and quality, development of concerted action programmes, exchange
of information, and enforcing agreements.
In the coming decades, management of
international watersheds will greatly increase in importance. A high priority
should therefore be given to the preparation and implementation of integrated
management plans, endorsed by all affected governments and backed by
action programmes for water and sustainable development will require a
substantial investment, not only in the capital projects concerned, but,
crucially, in building the capacity of people and institutions to plan and
implement those projects.
baseMeasurement of components
of the water cycle, in quantity and quality, and of other characteristics of the
environment affecting water are an essential basis for undertaking effective
water management. Research and analysis techniques, applied on an
interdisciplinary basis, permit the understanding of these data and their
application to many uses.
With the threat of global warming due to
increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the need for
measurements and data exchange on the hydrological cycle on a global scale is
evident. The data are required to understand both the world■s climate system and
the potential impacts on water resources of climate change and sea level rise.
All countries must participate and, where necessary, be assisted to take part in
the global monitoring, the study of the effects and the development of
appropriate response strategies.
buildingAll actions identified
in the Dublin Conference Report require well-trained and qualified personnel.
Countries should identify, as part of national development plans, training needs
for water-resources assessment and management, and take steps internally and, if
necessary with technical co-operation agencies, to provide the required
training, and working conditions which help to retain the trained
Governments must also assess their
capacity to equip their water and other specialists to implement the full range
of activities for integrated water-resources management. This requires provision
of an enabling environment in terms of institutional and legal arrangements,
including those for effective water-demand management.
Awareness raising is a vital part of a
participatory approach to water resources management. Information, education and
communication support programmes must be an integral part of the development
FOLLOW-UPExperience has shown that progress towards implementing the actions and
achieving the goals of water programmes requires follow-up mechanisms for
periodic assessments at national and international levels.
In the framework of the follow-up
procedures developed by UNCED for Agenda 21, all Governments should initiate
periodic assessments of progress. At the international level, United Nations
institutions concerned with water should be strengthened to undertake the
assessment and follow-up process. In addition, to involve private institutions,
regional and non-governmental organizations along with all interested
governments in the assessment and follow-up, the Conference proposes, for
consideration by UNCED, a world water forum or council to which all such groups
It is proposed that the first full
assessment on implementation of the recommended programme should be undertaken
by the year 2000.
UNCED is urged to consider the financial
requirements for water-related programmes, in accordance with the above
principles, in the funding for implementation of Agenda 21. Such considerations
must include realistic targets for the timeframe for implementation of the
programmes, the internal and external resources needed, and the means of
The International Conference on Water
and the Environment began with a Water Ceremony in which children from all parts
of the world made a moving plea to the assembled experts to play their part in
preserving precious water resources for future
In transmitting this Dublin Statement
to a world audience, the Conference participants urge all those involved in the
development and management of our water resources to allow the message of those
children to direct their future actions.