Water Management Report #1

Session 6.4 of the WWF was devoted to water information matters, with four sub-sessions conducted over two days. As President of the Hydrology Commission of WMO, I chaired sub-session 6.4.3. 

Across the four sub-sessions, there were 6 keynote presentations and about 25 short presentations, complemented with considerable panel interaction with the audience. 

The session organisers (Arthur Askew and Gordon Young) from the International Association of Hydrologic Sciences (IAHS) seemed switched-on and passionate about making a difference. 

Their session-framing presentations were very effective. Attendance at most of the sub-sessions was strong, indicating a strong interest in water information issues.

The session diagnosed the state of water information sharing around the world, identified water data gaps in some countries and profiled water information success stories in others. Identified impediments to data sharing included resources, legal and institutional settings, and a spate of technical issues.

Institutional impediments were seen to be the most profound problems in limiting access to water information. 

Unfortunately, most of the time was devoted to problem definition, with very little problem-solving and forward-looking thinking entered into. Some countries such as Iraq and Chad were highlighted as cases where the entire water data monitoring system was either destroyed or in severe crisis

Other countries, such as South Africa, appeared to have all of the necessary legal and institutional reforms in place, but were struggling with technical capacity.

A persistent theme of the session was that water management challenges are growing but the data available to guide responses generally is not. You’ll find evidence of this confusion here:

Indeed in many regions, the availability of water information is decreasing, with Australia, Mexico, the United States and certain EU countries being notable exceptions where enhanced water information programs have been initiated in recent times. 

The session revealed rapid growth in regional and global data summaries, such as the Global Runoff Centre and FAO Aquastat, but it was also clear that these are supported by very thin, and often diminishing, national local data bases. 

The regional data sets being compiled tend to be patchy and quality assurance is generally lacking. Most session participants stressed that more emphasis needs to be put on national and local water information programs (see analysis of extreme values, in Russian).

Although there was a strong push for the compilation of global water data sets, it is difficult to see the value in this when compared with the criticality of getting local data sets in good shape so that they can be used to support day-to-day decision making by water managers.

Another resonant theme of the session was that water information programs need to be strongly demand-driven and tailored to demonstrate the value of water data in water resources management decision making. 

Although the sentiment for this was strong, there were few examples of countries that had demonstrated the value of water information, and none, other than Australia, that had cooperated with central agencies in designing water information programs. 

Most of the participants in the session struggled to articulate clearly why they were collecting water data, suggesting that programs were more about supply push than demand-pull.

Water accounting was seen as a good example of a value-added water information product that could aid decision-makers. 

One of the sub-sessions was devoted to countries sharing their experience with the SEEA-W water accounting methodology, championed by the UN Environmental Statistics Division and applied to or piloted in over 40 countries.  SEEA-W was promoted as a good organising framework for water information, particularly for integrating water data with social and economic data sets. 

The Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Bureau of Statistics are working together to ensure that the National Water Account is SEEA-W compliant and satisfies the water sector’s water accounting needs.

Session participants noted that previous WWF meetings and other international water meetings had highlighted the plight of water data collection systems around the world and called for corrective action. 

In the summary sub-session, it was agreed that water information must be elevated on the agenda at the next WWF and that work should commence now to gradually overcome the various systemic problems that have impeded water data collection and sharing. 

Participants stressed the need for leadership with clear goals and timelines, although some countries will be able to demonstrate very substantial progress in water information programs over the next three years, in all likelihood the next WWF will be plagued by similar complaints of diminishing data, lack of focus and dwindling resources.

From a WMO perspective, the Forum was relatively successful in that through the Exhibition Booth and involvement in two thematic sessions (Climate and Water and Water Information) of the Forum, the WMO had a high profile.

Of greater impacts were the various side meetings with a wide range of water related groups enabled through the presence of these groups in one place for a reasonable period of time.

Six additional groups have now signed agreements with WMO to provide in-kind support to the Associated Program on Floodplain Management Help Desk. 

I have been impressed with the commitment of these agencies to the concept following two workshops that I chaired during the latter part of 2008 and early 2009. The combined contributions from such a wide range of partners will place WMO in a great position in this activity.

On Saturday evening, I chaired a meeting of the International Flood Initiative (involving ICHARM (Japanese Centre for Hazard Risk Management), WMO, UNESCO, IAHS, IAHR, UNU and others).

We were able to bring members up to date with current initiatives and activities and also set in place three key areas of future collaboration, (namely, IFI Policy Briefs, IFI Reference Series and IFI Web-based Tutorials). The Secretariat for the IFI located at ICHARM will provide a more detailed report of the meeting.