Moreover, poor water management will critically affect the “drylands” in the region that form 90 % of land in the different watersheds and river basins. Drylands are either used for range management or for rain-fed agriculture, with some time supplementary irrigation. All of these land uses are heavily dependent on often scarce water resources be it ground or surface water. The villages and towns in the same areas depend for their drinking water on groundwater that is in many cases overexploited responding to this alert IUCN ROWA has initiated an IUCN Regional Water Programme in 2005, which has recently been launched as the Regional Water Resources & Drylands Programme (REWARD).
Water for Nature
In the last half of this century, population growth and urbanization, together with the changes in production and consumption, have placed unprecedented demands on water resources. People are overusing water and natural resources. Half of the world's wetlands have already been lost due to over abstraction of water and conversion into agricultural land. Human water management affects ecosystems and nature (in wet and drylands), which in turn affect the livelihoods of the people that depend on them. Hydrological, ecological, and social processes are closely connected. People are an inalienable part of the ecosystem. Therefore, we must look at the big picture: the management of fresh water within an ecosystem for development as well as environmental conservation purposes.
Ecosystems for Water
The REWARD Programme builds on IUCNs global experience over the past two decades. A three-year-initiative aiming at developing a systemic approach to Sustainable Freshwater Management in the West, Central Asia & North Africa (WESCANA) Region. This initiative, which is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGCS), was launched in 2006 and adopts an ecosystem approach, which is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. An ecosystem approach looks beyond specific interests, such as food production, hydropower, nature conservation, or sanitation, to find integrated solutions for the variety of demands we place on our freshwater resources. It establishes a management regime that uses natural processes and productivity and considers all goods and services to be on equal footing with water delivery. It strives to maintain biodiversity and to conserve land and water resources and includes environmental monetary values in determining the cost-effectiveness of interventions and the sustainable allocation of resources.
Because users within a basin or watershed are interdependent, an integrated water management approach is essential. Upstream uses of water have an impact on downstream users, the management of the land affects the water resources,, while ground and surface water management are closely interlinked. The ecosystem approach is holistic, taking all these aspects into account. Even though the ecosystem approach appears to emphasize hydrological and ecosystem processes, the real focus is on human processes. The different human uses and behaviors in a basin are interlinked; the actions of one can have an impact on another. REWARD will therefore focus a number of demonstration projects on specific watersheds.
Water and People
People need water and water need people to better manage it, especially when different uses may become competing if not conflicting. REWARD will therefore give important attention to engage local communities in the planning and decision-making processes. At the same time all other relevant stakeholders will be involved in a process of dialogue and concerted action. For this REWARD will importantly build on EMPOWERS, an earlier programme that was funded in the Middle East by the European Commission. Participatory planning and decision-making and use of systemic approaches will be key in this.
Water in West Asia: Exploring the Links
Realizing the importance of both the sustainable management of water resources in the region and the sharing of knowledge and experience as an essential tool in development, our aim is to promote sharing of experiences and knowledge of these topics throughout the region and provide a focal point for networking among researchers, experts, practitioners and other stakeholders with an interest in water resources and dryland management. A Regional Network of Knowledge Nodes will be established in the region that will exchange experiences and lessons learned in their areas of work. The Regional Water Network will enrich and strengthen the REWARD Programme where it will act as a platform for partners and members to serve the long-term objective of making more sustainable use of scarce water resources. As part of REWARD's regional networking and together with other regional institutions, such as the Arab Water Council, UNEP, the Global water partnership and CEDARE, IUCN will launch a Forum for Dialogue on sustainable ground water management through a series of regional meetings.
In essence his initiative promotes good water governance in the region in assisting countries to strengthen their national capacities to revise existing and/or adopt new legal frameworks for the management of water resources in a sustainable manner. A first Regional REWARD Workshop is scheduled for mid 2008.
REWARD directly contributes to the Water and Nature Initiative (WANI), a world-wide effort of IUCN to implement a systemic approach to water management. This enables the ROWA network members to benefit directly from the experience and expertise available in this worldwide initiative. At the same time REWARDs inscribes itself in IUCN global efforts to mitigate the effects of desertification through its Global Drylands Programme.