THE DUBLIN STATEMENT
ON WATER AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
THE ACTION AGENDA
Alleviation of poverty and disease
Protection against natural disasters
Water conservation and reuse
Sustainable urban development
Agricultural production and rural water supply
Protecting aquatic ecosystems
Resolving water conflicts
The enabling environment
The knowledge base
Scarcity 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 past.
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 action.
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
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 DEVELOPMENT.
Concerted 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.
Since 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
The participatory 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.
This 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 them.
Within 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.
Based 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:
At 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
Lack 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
Current patterns of water use involve excessive waste. There is great
scope for water savings in agriculture, in industry and in domestic
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.
The sustainability 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.
Achieving 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 international.
Water 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.
The 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 international
Implementation of 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.
Measurement 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.
All 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 personnel.
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 process.
Experience 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 could adhere.
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 mobilizing
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 generations.
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.