Water Governance

Enhancing the role and contribution of water governance to secure a water-wise world

Water is life

Water is humanity’s lifeblood.

As humanity's most precious global common good, water unites us all.

Clean water is a human right, not a privilege. It is a common development denominator to shape a better future. But water is in deep trouble. It is being poisoned by pollution and drained by overuse. Climate change is amplifying existing water-related risks and pressures, driving more extreme events such as increased intensity and frequency of rainfall, as well as more frequent and prolonged droughts.  Governance issues, poverty, and rising inequality, exacerbate these water challenges.

The water crisis is a governance crisis. We know that water needs to be at the centre of the global political agenda.  

  • One in four people still lives without safely managed water services or clean drinking water. Approximately 4 billion people live with severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year, and about half a billion people face water scarcity year-round.  
  • Local capacities to provide water services and sustainably manage water-related ecosystems are insufficient, resulting in a quarter of the global population not having access to safely managed water supplies, and 45% not having safely managed sanitation services.  
  • Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems due to pollution and habitat destruction, and more than 50% of all wetlands globally have been lost since 1900. Water access and services provision, as well as broader land and water management, depend greatly on governance.  

UNDP is supporting ambition on clean water and sanitation

UNDP’s work on water governance focuses primarily on the challenges related to SDG 6 - sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Our projects and programmes bring a diverse suite of actors together to jointly protect ecosystems and ensure the sustainable use of water and ocean resources to build equitable, inclusive, and sustainable societies.

As the largest UN agency in the UN family – and the largest provider of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) solutions in the transboundary context – UNDP is a leading voice in water policy deliberations, while simultaneously improving lives on the ground through long-standing collaboration with governments, UN sister agencies and other partners. 

UNDP addresses water challenges from the 'governance' perspective – focusing on improving the lives of the most vulnerable. This means taking a holistic view of the institutional frameworks and systems that determine who gets to use water when and how and daring to speak up for equitable and efficient use and protection of water resources.

UNDP supports multi-stakeholder processes and rights-based approaches at local, national and regional levels. We know that Governments must develop and implement plans that ensure equitable water access for all people while conserving this precious resource. The often-conflicting demands and interests relating to natural resources management, require multi-level democratic and transparent processes and integrated management for their resolution. To implement agreed policy with professionalism and integrity, there needs to be accountable and competent institutions and professionals. 

UNDP’s Water and Ocean Governance Programme (WOGP) applies ecosystem-based approaches in supporting water governance reform, principally at the level of transboundary water management in collaboration with GEF-International Waters.