Fisheries are one of the main economic activities in La Selle Biosphere Reserve, Haiti


One in five countries has received technical assistance from UNESCO since 2018 in managing their ‘blue gold’

An overview of the work of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme over the past 5 years.

One in five countries has received technical assistance from UNESCO since 2018 in managing their ‘blue gold’

Between 2018 and 2021, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP) helped 44 countries to enhance their resilience to climate change, water-related hazards, and water scarcity. Many of the beneficiaries are in Africa, the priority region for UNESCO’s work. For instance, scientists from the IHP developed satellite observation systems to monitor the quality and quantity of water in the in the Lake Chad Basin and establish early warning systems for flooding and drought in five countries of the basin namely Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Niger, and Nigeria. The project has been replicated in Southern Africa in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, as well as in Chile in Latin America.

The IHP has taken a systems approach to problem-solving by teaming up with colleagues from UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme who have been helping local populations to restore degraded ecosystems in the Lake Chad Basin and train local people in how to safeguard and sustainably manage their natural resources. The Biosphere and Heritage of Lake Chad (Biopalt) project has also trained local communities how to supplement their income, such as by harvesting spirulina algae from the lake to make health and beauty products.

Since women and young people will play a vital role in the global effort to make water readily available for all, the IHP has paid particular attention to these target groups. Between 2014 and 2021, the IHP trained over 55,000 people, 44% of whom were women. For instance, it organized three editions of an online course on water security for 3,000 young participants over this period.

‘We need to stop taking water for granted’

Global use of water has increased by a factor of six over the past 100 years and continues to expand by 1% per year. Causes include population growth and economic development, along with shifting consumption patterns that are boosting demand for meat and water-thirsty crops like rice. Societies which consume a lot of meat consume a lot of water: producing 1 kg of wheat requires 800–4,000 litres of water, compared to 2,000–16,000 litres for 1 kg of beef. Then there is the energy that we are ‘growing’. Biofuel production is rising steadily, and it takes 1,000–4,000 litres of water to produce just 1 litre of biofuel.

To make matters worse, climate change is contributing to a more erratic and uncertain water supply. The 2019 edition of the United Nations’ World Water Development Report forecasts that almost half of the global population will be living in highly water-stressed areas by 2030. It is this water stress that the United Nations’ sixth Sustainable Development Goal of Water and Sanitation For All is hoping to alleviate by 2030 through global cooperation.

‘The task ahead is huge,’ says Abou Amani, Director of UNESCO’s Division of Water Sciences and Secretary of the IHP. ‘We need to stop taking water for granted’. For him, the role of the IHP is even more important now than when the UNESCO intergovernmental hydrological Programme (IHP) was established in the 1970s.

The IHP is composed of water specialists from each of UNESCO’s 193 member states, who meet every two years to decide upon the thrust of the next phase of the programme.

By working together, sharing ideas and responding to requests from countries for technical support to help them devise more effective policies and programmes and ensure relevant training, we can help make these countries more resilient to climate change.
Abou Amani Director of UNESCO’s Division of Water Sciences and Secretary of the IHP

Fostering cooperation and free access to groundwater resources data: a key to global water security

The Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme has demonstrated that data-sharing on groundwater and related cooperation is possible. Ms Aureli observes that “we have a success story to tell with the preparation of a map which reveals the groundwater potential of the West African region. Under the umbrella of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme, the British, German and French Geological Surveys have cooperated for several years to combine their data and knowledge to prepare this map. It will be presented at the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar on the United Nations’ World Water Day, which is being celebrated on the 22nd of March’. 

In 2022, UNESCO is placing groundwater on the international agenda by leading the activities to mark World Water Day, which will focus on groundwater this year. UNESCO will also be hosting the United Nations Summit on Groundwater on 6-9 December at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.