Freshwater Ecosystems

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  • The activities of the Freshwater Ecosystems Programme at the Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) incorporate two broad areas of interest: advanced education and capacity development, and knowledge and information management.

    In the area of advanced education and capacity development, the focus is on education and training in various aspects of integrated water resources management (IWRM). This is directed towards adult education for current water professionals, executive training courses and courses available for free to the general public. Software tools and modelling programmes to assist in teaching the fundamentals of IWRM are developed.

    The work in the area of knowledge and information management aims to develop platforms and techniques for the generation, dissemination and exchange of scientific knowledge, information and findings. This includes the evaluation and dissemination of good practices in water management and methods to assist sharing of knowledge and information that has been generated in water-related projects.


    Negotiations continue on the establishment of a ‘twin’ with Alexandria University in Egypt. Recent political changes in that country have delayed the process substantially but indications are that the university remains an interested party. A key indicator is the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in October 2011, which establishes the basis for joint research activities and for development of collaborative academic programmes.

    Focal Point

    This programme is led by Professor Colin Mayfield, who has extensive experience in capacity building and knowledge management in the water sector.


    A major factor contributing to the global water crisis is the widespread failure to effectively manage the given freshwater resources through integrated management approaches at the basin or watershed scale. In most cases, conflicts in water usage — whether between sectors in a country, between upstream and downstream riparians, or between countries sharing river basins — are not resolved effectively and sustainably. This programme aims to better manage freshwater ecosystems — including rivers and lakes, their watersheds, and freshwater deltas and wetlands — by overcoming two core challenges facing developing countries. The first is limited or absent scientific knowledge on water quality and quantity, and ecology and ecosystem services. The second is failure at the policy level to manage freshwater ecosystems in an integrated and holistic fashion.


    UNU-INWEH’s programme of work in this thematic area directly addresses these challenges through: capacity building by disseminating knowledge and education on IWRM approaches; synthesis of existing scientific knowledge; and, comparative analysis of governance mechanisms, leading to improvements.


    In this programme, there is a strong focus on reduction in gender inequalities in access to and management of the water resources. This is important because women are the primary water managers in most developing countries. There is particular attention being paid to developing leadership amongst women in the water research community.

    Target Audience

    The main audiences are water managers and practitioners in governmental agencies and water ministries, community leaders, policymakers at the national and international level, and water researchers. The programme activities and outputs are tailored to these distinct groups.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Influencing policymaking in the United Nations System
    Target: The aim is to help make water issues a top priority within the UN system and to promote integrated capacity development focused on all aspects of water management — human, institutional, technological and financial.
    How: This is achieved in two ways: First, by publishing reports and policy briefs that synthesize the state of science into actionable and policy-relevant recommendations. Second, by developing innovative and integrated capacity development approaches in collaboration with other UN partners.

    Impact: Contribution to a UN assessment/issue/query
    Target: This programme contributes to the UN World Water Development Report (WWDR).
    How: We play a leading role in the development of the sections of WWDR that deal with water capacity development.

    Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
    Target: The capacity development approach is designed to prepare the current generation of practitioners and managers to implement IWRM in the freshwater ecosystems under their purview.
    How: The approach used in this programme entails development and delivery of IWRM training programmes, such as the Water Virtual Learning Centre. This programme is tailored to regional needs and perspectives and delivered through partner universities in six regions. Software and models for improving water management education are also developed and disseminated through a cooperative development

    Research Findings

    The research findings from a broad international water researchers’ community will be published via a special journal issue on freshwater and marine transboundary water management and science. This issue will allow UNU-INWEH, as the editorial lead, to summarize the worldwide state of research and identifying gaps for future action. This will further our partnership with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), with a focus on the GEF International Waters portfolio. This research publication will be based on collaboration across borders and will include preparation of decision support fact sheets.

    Policy Bridging

    UNU-INWEH is organizing an international conference designed to enhance the use of science and the effectiveness of local science communities in policy formulation and allocation of development resources, particularly through the GEF. The knowledge management system and technologies designed and created by our IW:Science project will be deployed to maintain online communities of researchers, which in turn will feed into the conference agenda and outcomes.

    Value Added

    This programme is addressing the fragmented and decentralized decision-making process in national water policies, especially in light of the many concurrent problems (contaminated drinking water, nutrient pollution, industrial toxic pollution, biodiversity losses, etc.). Our projects also bring together numerous UN and international water organizations to understand these challenges and synthesize policy-relevant recommendations.


    Dissemination activities from the programme target policy audiences — particularly those in national governments, UN organizations and the international development community.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    This is an ongoing programme, with multi-year projects with distinct start and end dates. Projects are funded through external donors, notably the Global Environment Facility and the Arab Gulf Program for Development. It is anticipated that the programme activities will continue in the scope of the current strategic plan (2011-2014), and beyond.


    UNU-INWEH employs a well-defined results-based management approach, which includes gathering of indicators at the programme- and project-level. This is done on an annual basis and the indicators provide trends in improvement, leading to appropriate management responses. Because each project is co-funded through external partners, evaluation by the partners or independent evaluators provides an extra layer of assessment of success.


    In this programme, there is a need to demonstrate a significant financial leveraging to maintain the level of project activities; this requires diligent fundraising efforts in a challenging environment.

    Expected Duration

    The programme is expected to run for a duration of 180 months, from 1 January 2006 through 31 December 2020.

  • Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between the Institute for Water, Environment and Health and four partners:

    • UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security
    • Global Environment Facility
    • United Nations Development Programme
    • United Nations Environmental Programme
  • Dr. Adeel Zafar, Director
    United Nations University
    Institute for Water, Environment and Health
    175 Longwood Road South
    Suite 204
    Hamilton, Ontario
    Canada L8P OA1

    T: +1 905 667-5511
    F: +1 905 667-5510