In collaboration with the Environment Law Institute (ELI), and in context with the 9th World Water Forum (Dakar, Senegal, 21-26 March 2022), AIDA has drafted a Manifesto for National Integrated Legal Frameworks for Water Resources Governance. The Manifesto calls the attention of lawmakers, policymakers and members of civil society to the central importance of laws and institutions to advance the sustainable and equitable management of our Planet’s freshwater endowment. To be truly effective and equitable, these laws and institutions must promote integration across the land-water-environment continuum, and across the spectrum of human actions that impact freshwater. The Manifesto provides a template for the pursuit of key policy goals that shape the direction, contents and scope of an integrated legal environment for the effective governance of freshwater by countries around the Globe. The full text of the Manifesto is reproduced below:


1. Scope and Purpose

The purpose of this Manifesto is to call attention to and inspire action by national policy- and law- makers, as well as members of civil society, to advance enabling legal and regulatory environments for the sustainable and equitable management of freshwater resources on our planet, in volumes and of a quality that are suitable to ensure life on Earth.

In particular, this Manifesto emphasizes the role of water legislation as a foundational pillar of good water governance. It notes that, despite increased global awareness that water must be governed in more equitable and coherent ways both across relevant sectors and levels of government, countries around the world continue to struggle to implement coordinated policies and legal and institutional arrangements and break the traditional sectoral approach to the governance of freshwater resources. This signals the need for countries to rethink the role that the full spectrum of the legal and regulatory continuum can play in providing the fundamental framework for innovative approaches to improve cross-sectoral policy and regulatory alignment around freshwater allocation, conservation, development and use. Improved integration will also elucidate specific opportunities for balancing the various priorities and needs of different sectors and users, identify and prevent unwanted externalities, and maximize synergies where they can be found.

2. Scope of !integration” – furthering implementation of IWRM through legislative coherence

Domestic laws and regulations are one of the foundational pillars of the governance of the planet”s freshwater resources by the member States of the world community. While they stop at the national border of States, domestic laws and regulations can have multiplier aggregate effects, positive or negative depending on the quality of domestic legal environments, that fundamentally shape the health and sustainability of natural freshwater resources and the livelihoods and health of those dependent on them.

Freshwater does not exist in isolation from the wider natural environment where rivers, lakes, and aquifers occur. The interlinked crises of food insecurity, water insecurity, land degradation and ecosystem deterioration cannot be effectively confronted without national legal frameworks that recognize and provide practical mechanisms for addressing the diverse and complex interdependencies across land and water resources, and across the water-dependent sectors of economic and social activity, such as agriculture and energy. Water is also the primary medium through which the impacts of climate change are experienced across these sectors, posing critical governance challenges that require increased adaptive capacity, further highlighting the need to balance legal certainty with flexibility, and underlining the need for improved multi-stakeholder, intersectoral and inter-jurisdictional coordination.

The impacts of continued fragmentation are dire, not only for the health of freshwater ecosystems, but also of those – particularly vulnerable – populations that depend on those ecosystems for basic human needs, food security, and livelihoods purposes. As pressures mount on freshwater, whether as a result of population growth, pollution, climate impacts, land use changes or other developments, failures to legally recognize and protect the freshwater tenure and rights of vulnerable populations will increasingly pose challenges for equitable resource allocation and achievement of sustainable development goals globally.

This Manifesto therefore calls for countries to ensure that domestic laws and regulations capture the complex web of interactions between water, the natural environment where it occurs, and the multiple uses that sustain life, human health, wellbeing and development, across the full extent of the domestic legal and regulatory spectrum of human actions that impact – directly or indirectly – on freshwater. This includes taking action to ensure that improved legislation supports more effective intra– and inter-sectoral integration, as described below.

3. Pursuing integration within the water sector

Within the water sector, integration of domestic water laws and regulations is desirable so as to bring under the roof of a national Water Resources Act and relevant implementation instruments: (a) surface water and groundwater; and (b) the basic functions of water resources management, i.e., allocation of available quantities of water occurring in nature (“raw” water) for use, and protection of the quality of the same water from pollution. Such integration provides a platform for clear allocation of roles and responsibilities for policymaking, planning, management and regulation of freshwater, functions that are currently often fragmented across multiple actors. It also enables the achievement of a number of key policy goals, notably:

  • the legal recognition of water as a common good that ought to be in the public domain of the State;
  • the regulation of abstraction and use of water with an eye to preserving rivers, lakes, and groundwater from depletion, also in the interest of future generations;
  • the regulation of waste disposal and other polluting activities across all sectors with an eye to preserving the quality of natural freshwater, also in the interest of future generations;
  • the meaningful engagement of stakeholders in planning and decision-making for more informed, equitable and sustainable resource management;
  • the recognition and progressive realization of the human right to water;
  • the existence and dignity, and hence the need for legal “recognition” of customary water tenure rights, which by and large escape the cone of attention of domestic water laws and regulations, resulting in inequity in access to water, particularly for vulnerable communities and individuals, including women, children and disadvantaged groups.

4. Pursuing integration across sectors

Integration across the legal and regulatory spectrum of human actions that impact on freshwater – directly or indirectly – has a binary connotation in the sense that not only is it desirable that domestic water laws and regulations reach out to, align, and coordinate with, other strands of the domestic legal and regulatory environment; but the reverse is equally desirable – that the laws and regulations composing the domestic legal and regulatory environment impacting upon and being impacted upon by water (i.e., land, environment, forestry and fisheries, among others) reach out to, align and coordinate with, domestic water laws and regulations. In particular and from the perspective of the domestic water laws and regulations, such inter-sectoral integration should canvass:

  • the non-utilitarian, environmental services provided by freshwater ecosystems;
  • the interface and multiple interactions that occur in nature between land (and land-based resources) and freshwater, that influence the natural regenerating processes, flow and quality of water;
  • the various and multiple interactions that occur across laws and in practice with respect to land, water, and other natural resource tenure rights that impact the integrity and security of those rights and the potential for more integrated approaches to resource tenure governance;
  • the potential for more integrated legal (and also institutional) climate adaptation and mitigation responses across sectors recognizing water as a cross-sectoral “connector”;
  • other key priorities that spring from the water-food-climate-energy nexus, and other inter- sectoral nexuses

5. A Call to Action
Against this backdrop, this Manifesto calls on countries to

  • diagnose where the issues are, whether those are within the legislative frameworks in place or around implementation and enforcement, including the institutional arrangements in place and the relevant available capacities; and
  • as needed, review and revise the legislation in effect, including the adoption of new laws and regulations that should be aligned with the basic substantive parameters set out in this Manifesto, and that should reflect solutions that are politically, institutionally and legally feasible and adapted to each country.