International Waters

International Waters

Access to clean water plays a pivotal role in achieving sustainable human development, including poverty reduction. However, chemical pollution of water resources is one of the major threats to the achievement of sustainable water resources development and management. Chemical pollution can be caused by: poorly treated or untreated municipal and industrial wastewater; pesticide and fertilizer run-off from agriculture; spills and other ship-related releases; mining; and other sources. It is one of the contributing factors to the current global crisis in which nearly a billion people lack access to safe drinking water.

UNDP's response to this water crisis has been to emphasize an integrated approach to water resource management through effective water governance, referring to the range of political, social, economic, and administrative systems to develop and manage water resources and the delivery of water services at different levels of society. An integrated water governance system compromises the mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which all involved stakeholders, including citizens and interest groups, articulate their priorities, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.

UNDP’s strategy in strengthening water governance—and thereby boosting progress toward the MDGs—includes:

  • Incorporating water management, water supply and sanitation into national development and poverty-reduction strategies.
  • Catalyzing financing for improved water governance.
  • Supporting and participating in global, regional, national and local dialogues on water governance.
  • Building capacity to manage water resources effectively.
  • Promoting women’s empowerment and human rights as essential components of effective water governance.

As one of the implementing agencies of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP administers and implements an important programme on International Waters, assisting developing countries which share important water bodies – lakes, river basins, aquifers and marine ecosystems – to improve their joint management of these transboundary resources through analysis and priority setting, and by developing and implementing joint action programmes.

A major portion of UNDP-GEF’s International Waters funding is used to prevent or reduce chemical pollution originating from land-based human activities – including agriculture, industry, mining, oil and gas exploitation, and wastewater management – that place ecological stress on marine and freshwater systems and degrade them, often affecting their use by another country or community that shares the resources.

Examples of types of UNDP supported projects that aim to reduce chemical pollution of international waters include:

  • Projects implementing stress reduction measures in major trans-boundary water bodies that result in measurable reductions in pollution loads and evidence of ecosystem recovery, through the introduction of cleaner production technologies, transfer of environmentally sustainable technologies and practices, sustainable financing and business models, harmonized legislation and improved environmental monitoring.
  • Projects leading to a reduction in the release of mercury into the environment from artisanal gold mining, by supporting mining policy reforms, transferring sustainable mining technologies and practices, and introducing sustainable livelihood options.
  • Creation of artificially engineered wetlands treating municipal wastewater, for national and regional replication.