IWRM Glossary

IWRM Glossary

Here is our glossary of terms related to IWRM, climate resiliency, and gender and social inclusion



Acidity: Measure of the relative acidity or alkalinity of water: water with a pH of 7 is neutral, lower pH levels indicate increasing acidity, while pH levels higher than 7 indicate alkalinity.

Adaptation: Initiatives and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects.

Adaptive capacity: The potential or ability of a system, region or community to adapt to the effects or impacts of a particular set of changes. Enhancement of adaptive capacity represents a practical mean of coping with changes and uncertainties, reducing vulnerabilities.

Advocacy: Process undertaken by an individual or group, which normally aims to influence public policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions; it may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles.

Agenda 21:  Global programme adopted by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Agenda 21 contains principles and recommendations aiming at sustainable development for the 21st century.

Alkalinity: Measure of the relative acidity or alkalinity of water: water with a pH of 7 is neutral, lower pH levels indicate increasing acidity, while pH levels higher than 7 indicate alkalinity. 

Allocation: To set aside a specific amount of water for a particular purpose or use (for the hydrologic system in which there are multiple uses or demands for water). 

Alluvial groundwater: Groundwater that is connected to a surface stream, usually in permeable rock, broken rock and gravel. 

Alluvium: Deposits of sand, silt, clay, gravel, or other particulate material that has been deposited by a stream or other body of running water in a streambed, on a flood plain, on a delta, or at the base of a mountain. 

Aquaculture: Farming of plants and animals that live in water, e.g., fish, shellfish and algae. 

Aquatic: Plant and animal life growing in water, living in water, or frequenting water. 

Aqueduct: Man-made canal or pipeline used to transport water. 

Aqueous: Something made up of water. 

Aquifer: Underground layers of permeable rock, sediment or soil filled with water; they are interconnected, so the water stays within or flows through them. The two major types of aquifers are confined and unconfined. 

Area/sub-national Water Partnership: Water partnerships at a basin, district, or other sub-national level within a country. 

Artesian water: Groundwater that is under pressure when tapped by a well and can rise above the level at which first encountered. It can flow out at ground level but does not always do so. The water pressure is commonly called artesian pressure, and the formation. 

Artesian well: A well in which water under natural pressure rises to the surface without being pumped. 

Artificial recharge: Process in which water is channelled from surface water supplies back into groundwater storage; the water can then be drawn from irrigation or induced infiltration from streams or wells. 

Associated Programme: Programmes that have been initiated specifically (Cap-Net for example), or existing programmes identified (Flood Management for example), to support GWP water partnerships in regions and countries. 


Base flow: The amount of water in a stream that results from groundwater discharge. 

Basin: A river or lake basin is the area bounded by the watersheds of a system of streams and rivers that flow towards the same outlet. In the case of rivers this is generally the sea, but may be an inland or endorheic water body, such as a lake or swamp. 

Best management practices (BMPs): Measures applied to management activities to help ensure water efficiency and decrease water use. 

Bias: Attitude for or against something, someone, or a group of people based on prejudices. Gender bias refers to a gender being treated differently based on preconceived or unreasoned notions. Implicit biases can play a crucial role, for example, in the workplace, in research, or in the planning of development programmes. 

Biofuel: Type of fuel whose energy is derived from biomass (biological carbon fixation), e.g., from plant starch, sugar, or oil or from animal fat. 

Blue Book: Instrument that promotes exchange, dialogue and mobilisation of stakeholders involved in managing water resources and services, in order to promote large-scale projects in partnership with decision makers, civil society, and the private sector. 

Blue water: Fresh surface and groundwater, i.e., the water in freshwater lakes, rivers, and aquifers. 

Borehole: Narrow shaft driven into the ground, either vertically or horizontally, to obtain water. A borehole may be constructed for many different purposes, including the extraction of water, oil, or gas. 

Brackish water: Water that is saltier than fresh water, but not as salty as seawater. Brackish water contains between 0.5 and 30 grams of salt per litre. 


Capacity building: The actions needed to enhance the ability of individuals, institutions, and systems to make and implement decisions and perform functions in an effective, efficient, and sustainable manner. 

Capacity development: The process by which individuals, groups and organisations, institutions and countries develop, enhance and organise their systems, resources, and knowledge. 

Capillary action: The process by which water rises through rock, sediment, or soil; it is caused by cohesion between water molecules and adhesion between water and other materials; together, these forces pull the water upwards. 

Carbon sink: Natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period. The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration. 

Catchment: Drainage area (see Basin). 

Chlorination: Treatment of drinking water with chlorine to kill disease-causing organisms. 

Civil society organisation: The multitude of associations around which society voluntarily organises itself and which represent a wide range of interests and ties. These can include community-based organisations, indigenous peoples’ organisations, and non-government organisations. 

Climate change adaptation: Initiatives and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against the actual or expected effects of climate change. 

Climate change screening: A way of assessing the impacts of climate change on development activities, and how these linkages can be taken into account in development activities and national planning processes. 

Climate change: A change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods. 

Cost effective: Obtaining the best results for least expense or offering the maximum benefit for a given level of expenditure that provides good value for money. 

Cost recovery: Adjusting fees/prices for a water system where all costs of operation and maintenance are covered for supplying water or services. 

Country Water Partnership: a neutral, multi-stakeholder platform for facilitating improvements in the way water resources are managed. A GWP Country Water Partnership (CWP) is made up of the GWP Partners in a country. 


Dam: Structure built to hold back a flow of water. 

Delta: Fan-shaped area at the mouth of a river formed by deposition of sediments. 

Demand management: Measures taken to predict and meet consumer demand for environmentally sensitive goods such as water, e.g., through activities that alter water use. 

Depletion: The loss of water from surface water reservoirs or groundwater aquifers due to usage at a greater rate than they are recharged. 

Deposition: The gradual dropping or laying down of matter by a natural process, or getting rid of sediments as performed by an agent of erosion, such as a river or glacier; also called sedimentation. 

Desalination: The process of removing salt from seawater or brackish water. 

Desertification: Land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. 

Developed water: Water that is produced or brought into a water system through the efforts of people (where it would not have entered the water system on its own accord). 

Disbursement: The action of paying out money. 

Discharge: The amount of water flowing past a location in a river or stream in a certain amount of time; usually expressed in volumes (litres per second or gallons per minute). 

Drainage basin: All the land that serves as the drainage area of a specific stream or river; (see Basin) 

Drainage area: The entire geographical area drained by a river and its tributaries. 

Drip irrigation: Common method of irrigation, in which water trickles slowly through pipes or tubes onto crops. Drip irrigation is a low-pressure method of irrigation with the advantage that less water is lost to evaporation than with high-pressure spray. 

Drought: The naturally occurring phenomenon that exists when precipitation has been significantly below normal recorded levels, causing serious hydrological imbalances that adversely affect land resource production systems. 


Ecosystem: A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. 

Effluent: In issues of water quality, refers to liquid waste (treated or untreated) discharged to the environment from sources such as industrial process and sewage treatment plants 

Empowerment: People taking control and having power over their lives: setting their own agendas, gaining skills, building self-confidence, solving problems, and developing self-reliance. Empowerment consists of the four integrally linked aspects of physical empowerment, economic empowerment, political empowerment, and socio-cultural empowerment. 

Environmental goods and services:  Refer to products and actions for the main purpose of protecting the environment and management of environmental resources, e.g., the prevention of pollution, restauration of the biodiversity, monitoring the state of environmental resources, etc.  

Environmental impact assessment (EIA): An analytical process or procedure that systematically examines the possible environmental consequences of the implementation of a given activity or project. 

Eutrophication:  Increased inputs of nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus) from agricultural runoff and also human and industrial waste into water bodies leading to excessive plant (principally algae) growth and decay. 


Faecal Sludge Management: It is the storage, collection, transport, treatment, disposal, or safe reuse of human excreta, water, and sanitary wastes. 

Female-headed household: A household in which an adult female is the decision maker and sole or main income producer. These women are predominantly single mothers (unmarried, widowed, divorced). 

Food security:  All people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life. 

Forestry: Management of forested land, together with associated waters and wasteland, primarily for harvesting timber but also for conservation and recreation purposes. 

Freshwater: Non salty surface and groundwater, i.e. the water in freshwater lakes, rivers and aquifers.


Gender analysis: Refers to the variety of methods used to analyse and understand the relationships between women and men, their access to resources, their activities, and the constraints they face relative to each other. Gender analysis of a context or situation on the ground is the first and essential part of any gender responsive action or programme. 

Gender aware: Someone or something (e.g., a policy, an activity) that shows awareness of the existence of differences in resources and opportunities that exist for people associated with different genders. It takes into account that these issues have an impact on how women and men are treated in all aspects of societal life. 

Gender blind: The existing differences between women and men are not recognised or distinguished. Gender blindness can cause hinderance to gender mainstreaming. 

Gender discrimination: Describes the situation in which people are treated differently on the basis of sex or gender causing one sex or gender to be routinely privileged or prioritised over another. 

Gender equality: Refers to the equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of people of different genders. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women and men’s rights, responsibilities, contributions, and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born female or male. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs, and priorities of both women and men are considered, recognising the diversity between different groups of women and men. 

Gender equity: The process of being fair to women and men to ensure fairness. Gender equity is needed to compensate for the historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from operating on a level playing field. Gender equity is a means while gender equality and gender justice are the result. 

Gender inclusion/gender integration: A process that addresses the gender related challenges and impacts of a certain intervention, project, programme, or policy. A gender inclusive policy considers the gender related differences of the beneficiaries and the impact the policy may have on them.  

Gender mainstreaming: Refers to the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislations, policies, or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic, and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. 

Gender neutral: Words or language that do not refer to either the female or male sex is considered gender neutral. Gender neutral language is often used to indicate that gender is included but in fact gender neutral language does not serve to improve the understanding of gender issues but rather serves to “hide” gender issues. Gender neutral language cannot be used in gender analysis. 

Gender responsive: Taking actions to correct gender bias and discrimination and creating an environment that promotes gender equality and gender equity. 

Gender sensitive: To be gender sensitive is to recognize the differences, inequalities, and specific needs of women and men, and to act on this awareness. 

Gender transformative (approaches): A gender transformative approach considers women’s and men’s specific needs and addresses the causes of gender-based inequities by including ways to transform harmful gender norms, roles, and relations. It also includes strategies to foster progressive changes in power relationships between women and men. Gender transformative strategies may be the most effective in addressing the harmful social norms that discriminate against one gender in favor of another. 

Gender: Refers to the set of socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women or men. 

Gender-based violence: Violence perpetrated against a person because of their gender, or violence that disproportionately affects people of one gender. 

Geographic information system (GIS): GIS integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analysing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. 

Green water: The precipitation on land that does not run off or recharge the groundwater but is stored in the soil or temporarily stays on top of the soil or vegetation. It returns to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration. It can be productive through transpiration of the vegetation and therefore contributing to biomass production or non-productive through the evaporation of water on bare soil, vegetation surfaces and water surfaces. 

Grey water: Wastewater other than sewage, such as sink drainage or washing machine discharge. 

Global Water Partnership Organisation (GWPO): The intergovernmental organisation established in Sweden that comprises the GWP global secretariat, its Steering Committee, and the Technical Committee. 


Handwashing: Cleaning hands with plain or antimicrobial soap and water for the purpose of physically or mechanically removing dirt, organic material, and/or microorganisms. 

Hydrologic cycle: The cycle that water moves through via the natural process of evaporation and precipitation: from the sea, through the atmosphere, to the land and back to the sea. 

Hydrosphere: Discontinuous layer of water at or near the Earth’s surface. It includes all liquid and frozen surface waters, groundwater held in soil and rock, and atmospheric water vapour. 


Information management systems: The term for a range of electronic systems that arrange, store and exchange data and information. These electronic systems replace more traditional printed catalogues 

Integrated drought management:  Process promoting an integrated – rather than fragmented – approach to drought management. It is based on three pillars: Monitoring Early Warning, Vulnerability & Impact Assessment, and Mitigation, Preparedness & Response.  

Integrated flood management: A proactive process promoting an integrated – rather than fragmented – approach to flood management. The approach integrates, land use management, water management and risk management.  

Integrated resource planning: The management of two or more resources in the same general area, such as water, soil, timber, grazing land, fish, wildlife and recreation. 

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM):  A process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of ecosystems. 

International water law: Underlying legal framework comprised or rules, policy, and regulations that enables countries to cooperate peacefully and use water resources in a way that maximises shared socio-economic and environmental benefits. 

Intersectionality: It is a framework for understanding a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by several discriminations and disadvantages. It considers people’s overlapping identities and experiences to understand the complexity of prejudices they may face.


Land degradation: A human induced or natural process which negatively affects the land to function effectively within an ecosystem, by accepting, storing and recycling water, energy, and nutrients. 

Land use:  Refers to the total of arrangements, activities and inputs, people undertake in a certain land cover type to produce, change, or maintain it.


Marginalisation: Sometimes called social exclusion – refers to the relegation to the fringes of society due to a lack of access to rights, resources, and opportunities. It is a major cause of vulnerability, which refers to exposure to a range of possible harms and being unable to deal with them adequately. 

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM): The process of empowerment and ensuring access to personal hygiene practices during menstruation which starts with the choice of the best sanitary materials, their proper use, disposal, and body cleanliness for women and girls. It includes effective education, information, and access to water and sanitation facilities to ensure health and hygiene during menstruation. 

Mitigation: Structural and non-structural measures undertaken to limit the adverse impact of natural hazards, environmental degradation, and technological hazards. 

Multi-stakeholder partnership: Decision-making body (voluntary or statutory) comprising different stakeholders who perceive the same resource management problem, realise their interdependence for solving it, and come together to agree on action strategies for solving the problem. 


National IWRM Plan: Sets out a national strategy that identifies the priority steps that must be taken to reform the water management system to meet IWRM principles. 

Nature based solution: Measures that aim to utilise the features and functions of natural elements and resources to protect, sustainably manage, or restore natural ecosystems and tackle socio-environmental issues. 

Non-governmental organisation (NGO): Group of individuals or organisations, usually not affiliated with any government, that is formed to provide services or to advocate a public policy. 


Participatory approach: Securing an adequate and equal opportunity for people to place questions on the agenda and to express their preferences about the final outcome during decision making to all group members. 

Patriarchy: Patriarchy is a social or political construct in which men dominate due to their privileged position and women are mainly excluded from decision-making processes. Patriarchal social structures institutionalize male power in physical, social, and economic terms, and characterise most modern societies. 

Policy: Any form of intervention or societal response. This includes not only statements of intent, such as a water policy or forest policy, but also other forms of intervention, such as the use of economic instruments, market creation, subsidies, etc.


Ramsar Convention: An intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. 

Resilience: The capacity of a system, community or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt by resisting or changing in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure. 

Regional Water Partnership (RWP): Multi-stakeholder platforms that have a special function to share knowledge and experience across national boundaries and are expected to have an open, inclusive, and gender-sensitive membership policy for bringing together as wide a group of stakeholders as possible. GWP’s Regional Water Partnerships are comprised of all GWP Partners in a region. 

River Basin Organisation:  Institution that is established in, or among countries, that oversee the management of the water resources on a basin wide approach. 


Sanitation: Hygienic condition, behaviour, and/or measure of ensuring health through the provision and access to facilities and services of safe drinking water and waste disposal. 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A collection of 17 interlinked goals, 169 targets, and 247 indicators, adopted by UN member states to frame their agendas and political policies over the years 2015 to 2030 to address global challenges and attain a sustainable global future for all. 

Sex: Refers to the physical differences between people who are female, male, or intersex. A person typically has their sex assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, including their genitalia and chromosome composition. 

Source to Sea system:  the drainage areas of a river system that included its lakes, and tributaries, connected aquifers, deltas and estuaries, coastlines and nearshore waters, the adjoining sea and continental shelf as well as the open ocean. 

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA): SEA is undertaken for plans, programmes and policies. It helps decision makers reach a better understanding of how environmental, social and economic considerations fit together. 

Sustainable development: Paths of progress which meet the needs and aspirations of present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. 

Sustainable sanitation: The purpose of sustainable sanitation systems is the closing of the water and nutrients cycles.


Tokenism: A practice that either superficially and without real effort, or even only symbolically, attempts to include members of underrepresented groups, for example, through voluntary quotas or the recruitment of people from minority groups, to give the appearance of equality in the organisation, while leaving the overarching unequal power structures untouched, therefore not initiating positive change for those symbolically addressed. 

Transboundary cooperation: A formal agreement, collaboration or coordinated diplomatic action guided by international water law(s) between two or more member states to improve their institutions, strengthen professional capacities and develop regulations for the sustainable management and optimal environmental protection of transboundary water(s). 

Transboundary water:  A surface or groundwater resource such as an aquifer, lake, or river basin which marks, crosses, or is located on the boundaries between two or more member states or countries. 


United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD): Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programmes that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements. 

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The Convention was adopted on 9 May 1992 in New York and signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro by more than 150 countries and the European Community.


Vulnerability: The degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. 


Water Action Decade: The Water Action Decade declared by United Nations General Assembly commenced on World Water Day, 22 March 2018, and will end on World Water Day, 22 March 2028. It aims to promote Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to fulfill international and local commitments made on water and water related issues. 

Water borne diseases: Disease that arises from infected water and is transmitted when the water is used for drinking or cooking, for example cholera or typhoid. 

Water Footprint: The water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. 

Water Governance: The political, administrative, economic and social systems that exist to manage water resources and services and is essential in order to manage water resources sustainably and provide access to water services for domestic or productive purposes. 

Water right: A water right is the right to use water - not to own it. Good water law recognises and acknowledges existing uses and rights, including customary uses and aboriginal entitlements. 

Water scarcity: Occurs when annual water supplies drop below 1 000 m3 per person, or when more than 40 per cent of available water is used. 

Water Security: The availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks to people, environments and economies. 

Water supply: The share of water abstraction which is supplied to users (excluding losses in storage, conveyance and distribution) 

WEFE Nexus: A framework or system that captures the interdependence and interconnectedness of water, energy, food security, and the ecosystem.  

Wetlands: Areas that are inundated by surface or ground water with frequency sufficient to support a prevalence of vegetative or aquatic life that requires saturated or seasonally saturated soil conditions for growth or reproduction. 

Women’s rights: Women’s rights are human rights. Women are entitled to the right to live free from violence and discrimination; to vote; to be educated; to own property; to earn a fair and equal wage; and to receive the highest attainable standard of healthcare. Sexual and reproductive rights are an essential part of this. Equality between women and men is one of the most fundamental of human rights.