IWMI’s Top Ten Achievements

1. The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (CA)

The Comprehensive Assessment brought together the views of over 700 scientists to answer the fundamental question of how we feed 2 billion more people in the coming decades to address poverty while also preventing ecosystem degradation. The discussions brought out the challenge of meeting the requirements for water for food as well as for the environment. In addition to a series of research reports, the CA’s flagship publication ‘Water for Food, Water for Life’ aims to inform policymakers and investors about water and food choices in light of the problems of poverty and ecosystem degradation.
Read Frank Rijsberman, former DG, and Prof. Nobumasa Hatcho, former Board Chair, on the significance of the CA [PDF 648KB]

2. The Basin Perspective

Although a known concept in water resources, ‘the basin perspective’ has been key to IWMI’s conceptualization of water resource problems and can be credited with its extension, refinement, elaboration and promotion. Some important concepts promoted within the basin perspective are open and closed basins and the development trajectories of basins, amongst others.

Agricultural water use
IWMI’s work has promoted the idea that the productivity of water is a key indicator for irrigation and agricultural performance. Indicators of performance had traditionally focused on the technical parameters including efficiency and yield. IWMI fostered work to monitor management performance with work on irrigation adequacy and reliability. It introduced water productivity as a key indicator when water is a scarce input, and there is competition over its use.

Water accounting
IWMI’s work has contributed to improving the accounting of water across various uses. These procedures are an advance over technical notions of efficiency, water loss, and the narrow focus on irrigation. The procedure accounts for various urban, industrial, agricultural and environmental uses of water and points to areas where ‘real’ water savings can be achieved, and where water productivity can be improved. An important point that the framework drew attention to is the drawback of the prevalent presumption that water saved in one frame of reference (the field) constitutes water saved at project or basin level. In fact, as so often the case with water, one person’s waste is another person’s resource.

Environmental flows
IWMI put its mark on the world of environmental flows with the first global estimate of flows. IWMI’s map of global environmental flows is probably the most widely used map IWMI has produced. IWMI’s work introduced the environmental flows concept in India and Nepal through projects that have brought the issue of including and integrating environmental flows into basin water management to the attention of policymakers and water resource managers.
Read Max Finlayson, former IWMI Theme Leader, on Environmental Quality [PDF 132KB]

3. Water Productivity

The phrase ‘more crop per drop’ is directly attributed to IWMI and has been used in various international fora, most notably by Kofi Annan’s speech at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan echoed a decade of IWMI research when he said that “we need a ‘Blue Revolution’ in agriculture that focuses on increasing productivity per unit of water–‘more crop per drop’.”

4. Wastewater Agriculture

Wastewater agriculture, or wastewater use in irrigation in rural and peri-urban areas, is an issue area growing in importance with rising urbanization and simultaneous conditions of water scarcity. IWMI’s research in this area based in particular on work in Pakistan, Ghana and India, has made real public policy change, from local achievements that include acknowledging its practice in Ghana’s irrigation policy, to international impact through the Hyderabad Declaration on Wastewater Use in Agriculture and various contributions to the WHO guidelines till today.

The Hyderabad Declaration on Wastewater Use in Agriculture
In November 2002, 47 participants of an IWMI/IDRC-sponsored workshop, convened to address the livelihood and environmental impacts of wastewater use in irrigated agriculture, adopted the Hyderabad Declaration on Wastewater Use in Agriculture. Its key message urges the international community to support the livelihoods of farmers by adopting policies that will address the realities of wastewater use, particularly the health and environmental risks. The USEPA/USAID 2004 Guidelines for Water Reuse references the Declaration and includes, as a case study, IWMI’s research on wastewater irrigation in India and Pakistan. Other important collaborative outcomes include the joint organization of a session at the 3rd World Water Forum on Wastewater Reuse by USAID, USEPA, WHO and IWMI; and a joint IWMI/IDRC book Wastewater Use in Irrigated Agriculture published in 2004, with contributions from WHO, USAID, IWMI and others.

Revision of WHO Guidelines for the safe use of wastewater in agriculture
To protect public health and facilitate the rational use of wastewater in agriculture WHO developed corresponding guidelines in 1973 and 1989. The guidelines have been influential, and many developed countries have adopted/adapted them for wastewater use practices. However, IWMI research (MTP Project 5 2002-2004 outputs on health/livelihoods impacts of wastewater use) found that the guidelines have been much less influential in developing countries, where wastewater irrigation is an important livelihood strategy. As WHO began reviewing and revising the 1989 guidelines, IWMI saw an opportunity to inform the organization of its research findings and invited WHO to the 2002 IWMI-IDRC international workshop on the topic, resulting in the joint Hyderabad Declaration on Wastewater Use in Agriculture and several publications between IWMI, WHO and the authors of the new guidelines. IWMI became further involved in the formation of the new guidelines through expert consultations.

Institutionalizing the control of health risks associated with wastewater irrigation in Pakistan (BMZ Project)
IWMI’s work on the BMZ-funded project in Pakistan has impacted the grass-root health institutional level by addressing health risks associated with wastewater irrigation and implementing a risk mitigation strategy to contain selected infections. An IWMI-recommended holistic approach [encompassing diagnostic tests (stool surveys, water quality tests, etc.), health assessments (surveys), awareness=raising on health risks associated with wastewater-based livelihoods, and educational outreach programs on sanitation and hygiene behavior] was adopted and institutionalized with support from key partners in Faisalabad, Pakistan – the National Program for Primary Health Care and Family Planning ( (NPFP & PHC). They conducted the field program, with diagnostic support provided by the Institute of Public Health and Punjab Medical College.

5. Remote Sensing applications in water and agriculture

IWMI has been working to develop this area for about 10 years now, and can be credited for promoting remote sensing as a tool for better water management. Remote sensing provides spatiotemporal information on where water is being used, where it goes, and how it is used for productivity. Such information has tremendous potential to improve water management with applications that range from the issue of international allocations to on-farm management, to research on climate change adaptations. Notable IWMI research includes:

Supporting water accounting methodologies and frameworks through the Spatial Data and Knowledge Gateway Project (IWMIDSP)
IWMIDSP (http://www.iwmidsp.org) is an award-winning project pioneered by IWMI for providing state-of-the-art global public good (GPG) spatial data on water and land resources for river basins, nations, regions, and the world. The Environmental System Research Institute (ESRI) recognized IWMIDSP with a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award at the 27th Annual ESRI International User Conference in San Diego, California, June 20, 2007. Released to the public in June 2004, currently IWMIDSP has 3500+ registered users from 80+ countries. Monthly users average about 1500+. The 2007 IWMIDSP annual survey showed 80% of its data used for research purposes and 70% of the respondents rate it 7 or higher in a scale of 1 to 10. The IWMIDSP is profiled by: (a) Water Monitoring Alliance, (b) UN-Water Africa/UN Economic Commission for Africa; and (c) World Health Organization: Health and Environmental Linkages Initiative .


ET calculations for agricultural performance assessment
SEBAL has been used to calculate ET for studies on agricultural performance.

6. Participatory Irrigation Management/Water User Associations

IWMI’s work in this area counts for some of its most visible research. Key achievements include influencing the promotion of participatory irrigation management (PIM) and water user associations as its unit. With over 100 publications on this topic, IWMI research has been a leading contributor to the discussion on the PIM with articles that provide guidance on the practice, to articles that are critical of its performance.

Central Asia: – Ferghana Valley
IWMI with its regional partner, the Scientific Information Centre of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination introduced new institutional structures with user participation to improve agricultural water management in Central Asia. This involved developing smaller user groups from hydrographically identified areas, amalgamating them into Water User Associations (WUAs) and involving these in main canal governance, a process that is unique for the ex-Soviet countries. These proposed institutional reforms were adopted by the Governments of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The reforms have proven to be an effective mechanism for canal users to influence water management planning, and performance indicators at each level show positive results. The success of these initiatives has led to requests from all three participating countries to introduce these institutions in adjoining areas.

7. Water Supply and Demand

IWMI’s studies on world water supply and demand projections have served as a wake-up call to the world to recognize the ongoing and worsening water crisis.

Water scarcity
Water scarcity is high on the development agenda. IWMI’s work through WaterSim for the Comprehensive Assessment on Water Management in Agriculture (CA) influenced this agenda by creating greater awareness on water scarcity, both within and outside the water community. In particular, the global map depicting water-scarce areas, with statistics on people in water-scarce basins and suggestions for tackling water scarcity provided a geographical context and focus to dialogues and development agendas. For example, the theme of the UN World Water Day in 2007 was ‘coping with water scarcity,’ and IWMI’s water-scarcity map featured prominently in its main brochure. The map and the CA messages also featured in top national and international media.

8. Gender and Irrigation; Irrigation and Poverty

IWMI’s work on gender and irrigation goes back to around 15 years. The Gender and Water Program at IWMI brought together some of the leading researchers in gender and made important contributions to the debate bringing to light the issue of how irrigation management institutions in Asia and Africa become more inclusive for women and the poor. Poverty has also been a focus of IWMI’s work in the past with notable achievements being the ADB-funded project on “Pro-Poor Intervention Strategies in Irrigated Agriculture in Asia” a multi-country project with case studies in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam. The main project’s objective was to determine realistic options for increasing returns to poor farmers through improving the overall performance of established medium and large-scale surface irrigation systems (canals).
Read about Water and Womenomics [PDF: 115KB]

9. Groundbreaking Work on Groundwater

One of the most worrisome signs of the water crisis is the drawdown of major aquifers serving breadbasket areas. While much of the work in groundwater is highly technical, the missing link has been policies and a more complete understanding of why and how people use groundwater. IWMI has been at the forefront of groundwater research in the last decade, and has made great strides in identifying management strategies and polices for sustainable groundwater use.
Read the Jyotigram Yogana Story [PDF: 89KB]

10. Innovative Partnerships

Over the years IWMI has worked with other like-minded programs and organizations in collaboration to develop research in cross-cutting issues and to expand regional focus and impact. Work with the CPWF to promote research on water for food and the environment, collaboration with the Ramsar Convention to study the implications of wetland-supported agriculture, and the partnership with the TATA Foundation through the IWMI-TATA Program which worked on water and policy issues in India, are some of IWMI’s big achievements.
Read about the changing role of research [PDF: 107KB]

The ‘outputs’ (a web site section and a three-panel theme brochure) are valuable communication tools in themselves, but the process of telling the story was equally important. It helped us identify a list of milestone events, a collection of key historical documents and photographs, significant gaps in documentation and themes for a series of informative exhibits.
Most of us are so busy keeping up with day-to-day events and planning the future that we have no time to keep track of the past. This is unfortunate because an organization that cannot remember its past has a poor foundation on which to build its future. With a few simple systems and some slight changes in habitual procedures, most organizations could take better advantage of this enormous resource with little additional effort.