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 (Adapted from 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 (Adapted from 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 (Adapted from 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).