Climate-Resilient IWRM

Get an introduction to training materials, multimedia and other resources to learn more about climate change and water so you can tackle this global challenge locally.

Water is the first sector to be affected by changes in climate. Climate change leads to an intensified hydrological cycle. Sea level rise, increased evaporation, unpredictable precipitation, and prolonged droughts are just a few extreme events impacting availability and quality of water.

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) tools assist communities to cope with climate variability by managing available resources, organising and developing good management policy and practices, and placing focus on the most vulnerable groups.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognised the potential of IWRM to be used to reconcile changing water uses and demands, as it offers greater flexibility than conventional water resources management approaches.

IWRM for sustainable development

In January 1992, the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) in Dublin produced four principles that have been the basis for subsequent water-sector reforms, known as The Dublin Principles.

The Dublin Principles

1) Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment.
2) Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policymakers at all levels.
3) Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water.
4) Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good as well as a social good.

Understanding the science of climate change

Water managers need to understand the physical science and drivers of climate change before looking into its impact on water resources and ecosystems, and how this may affect water use.

Climate change effects on water

In 2016. the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that climate-related disasters have caused US$1.4 trillion of damage worldwide in the previous decade. In recent years, water-related disasters (floods, droughts and windstorms) accounted for almost 90 percent of the most disastrous events.


Hydro-Climatic Disasters in Water Resources Management

Featured Resource

Hydroclimatic Disasters in Water Resources Management Training Manual

A training material to help water managers develop strategies for coping with hydro-climatic disasters such as floods and drought.

IWRM for Climate Change Adaptation

The IPCC report recommends that reducing the vulnerability of nations or communities to climate change requires an increased ability to adapt to its effects. Tailoring adaptation assistance to local needs requires the addressing real vulnerabilities, involving stakeholders early and meaningfully and connecting with local decision-making processes.


Six water challenges affected by climate change
Climate risk impacts
Risk and uncertainty are built-in challenges for any water manager. Seasonal floods, for example, are part of the hydrological cycle in many river basins. Climate change is likely to worsen the severity and unpredictability of these patterns. Water managers can address risk by using available technology to quantify the anticipated impacts of climate change on the water resources of a river basin, community, location, or an ecosystem.
Too little water
Lower precipitation and decreased freshwater flow can cause a physical lack of water. As climate change affects rainfall and temperature patterns, water scarcity and droughts are expected to increase. Unsustainable use most often triggers water scarcity. The demand for more water for different uses, and the lack of coordination among the sectors, are common causes of water scarcity in many regions. 
Too much water

Rising temperatures caused by global warming mean the atmosphere can hold an increasing amount of moisture. This leads to higher potential volumes of rainfall, and increased risks of flooding. Communities have to plan for flash floods and sewer overflows. Planning must include the factors which affect the impact of flooding, such as soil character, urbanization, and the existence of dikes, dams or other flood prevention structures. 

Water pollution
Increasing floods, droughts and water temperatures, combined with human activity, are degrading water quality. The increasing pressures of population growth, and the lack of appropriate wastewater treatment, will have to be addressed alongside climate change mitigation efforts. Nutrient (especially phosphorus and nitrate) pollution from agricultural activities and domestic wastewater are two of the biggest threats to water quality and the health of freshwater ecosystems.
Sea-level rise
Coastal communities are particularly at risk to sea-level rise and extreme weather events, increasing the risks of tidal flooding. Coastal areas are home to some of the most populated and economically significant cities in the world and are often particularly exposed due to high population density and low-lying areas. 
Disaster Preparedness
Water disasters represent the largest share of natural disasters worldwide today, causing the deaths of thousands of people, and annual economic damage of billions of dollars. Floods in particular affect more people than any other hazard (UNISDR, 2015). Climate change is expected to exacerbate these losses, due to rising sea level, increased frequency of floods and droughts, coastal storm surges, as well as risks related to glacial lake bursts.
Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis

Featured Resource

Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis

Collaborative Water Resources Planning for an Uncertain Future


How can IWRM help address climate change?

IWRM offers various tools and instruments that deal with access to water and protecting the ecosystem, which safeguards water quality for future generations. IWRM can assist communities to plan for changing climatic conditions that limit water availability or cause excessive floods or droughts.

"Integrated water resources management is an increasingly
used means of reconciling different and changing water uses
and demands, and it appears to offer greater flexibility than
conventional water resources management. Improved ability
to forecast streamflow weeks or months ahead also would
significantly enhance water management and its ability to
cope with a changing hydrological variability."

Six Water Resource Management Planning Activities for Climate Change Mitigation

IWRM can assist communities to adapt to changing climatic conditions that limit water availability or may lead to excessive floods or droughts through:


Water allocation

Water can be allocated to the most efficient and effective use to react to climate variability in a flexible manner.

Water Integrity Training Manual


Pollution control

Water managers can proactively take action towards adaptation, by monitoring water quantity and quality developments.

Water Pollution Management Training Manual


Financial management

Creating the investment structures and securing the funding to meet water needs is a key enabling factor in achieving sustainable, climate-resilient and responsive water governance.

Economics in Sustainable Water Management Training Manual

Putting more I in IWRM: Changing course with integrity to secure financing and build climate resilience - Global Water Partnership


Flood and drought management

Management of floods and droughts, as a key function of IWRM, allows for direct intervention in cases of extreme events.

Drought Risk Reduction in Integrated Water Resources Management Training Manual

Integrated Urban Flood Management Training Manual

Watershed planning

Risk assessment and adaptation measures can be incorporated in watershed planning so as to mitigate against the combined effects of extremes in climate variability and unsustainable land management practices


Stakeholder participation.

When action is needed, stakeholder participation helps to mobilise communities and generate action. Water users can be stimulated to use the resource sustainably in the face of changing water conditions.



Featured Resource

Integrated Water Resources Management for River Basin Organisations

Related Courses

Get started on IWRM planning with the following courses:

More Resources


IWRM as a Tool for Adaptation to Climate Change

Text Excerpts taken from

IWRM as a tool for Adaptation to Climate Change Training Manual and Facilitators' Guide