Our Work

A transformative agenda for water

As global economic output continues to expand, consumption of water and natural resources grows relentlessly. The results are visible as water over-abstraction, land and water degradation, climate change and looming extinction crises. These are creating interconnected risks for people, economies and ecosystems that are unprecedented in human history.

Water is essential for food security, human health and biodiversity, and also for energy supply, industrial growth and urban development. Global demand for freshwater has grown fourfold in 60 years, a trend that cannot be sustained. How societies safeguard and manage water resources must change, and soon.

Productive uses of water are fundamental to well-being, but so too is management of water-related risks. Water scarcity, increasing frequency of floods and droughts, and water pollution hold back development, aggravate poverty and inequality, and exacerbate food scarcity, conflict, vulnerability and fragility.

Our future well-being therefore hinges on transformation: from convergence of stresses and risks to a future of sustainable, climate-resilient and inclusive development. The 2030 Agenda is the world’s agreed roadmap for this transformation.

Water is essential to the transformative ambitions of the 2030 Agenda. Water solutions are needed at all levels. This will take the combined effort of governments, civil society, the private sector, the intergovernmental system and the research community, of which the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) forms an important part.


Water solutions for sustainable food systems

Agriculture is the engine of food security. It is also the largest global user of water. As competition for water intensifies, the world needs resilient food systems to feed growing populations without undermining natural landscapes and ecosystems. Research is needed to enhance agricultural productivity, promote sustainable agricultural intensification and manage rural landscapes through nature-based infrastructure.


Adapting to water disparities and disasters

Climate change is felt through water. Floods, droughts and damaging storms are becoming more frequent and the retreat of glaciers and sea-level rise are accelerating. Climate change, coupled with conflict and political shocks, undermines development — and adaptation is key. Research is needed on water management and allocation in agriculture, disaster prediction and response, climate-smart water storage and improving water governance to enhance livelihoods.


Inclusive water governance and sustainability

Water security is key for sustainable and inclusive growth and underpins economic activity – from farming to manufacturing, energy and transport. The way water is shared between agriculture and cities, or among competing sectors, affects growth and societies. Research is needed to explain how water policies affect economic development and impact gender and inclusion, the roles of institutions and incentives in water management and trade-offs between growth and sustainability.