Delft, The Netherlands, 31 Mar 2014

Bastiaanssen appointed Special Chair of Global Water Accounting

Prof. Wim Bastiaanssen has been appointed as the Special Chair of Global Water Accounting at UNESCO-IHE. The Institute took the initiative to establish the Special Chair of Global Water Accounting, in close collaboration with the International Water Management Institute and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

A system of water accounting has so far been missing as an important element in the emerging system of global water governance. In view of the great water challenges that the world community is facing, the Institute and its partners the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) joined forces to pro-actively create and operationalize the research field of global water accounting. The Special Chair of Global Water Accounting will act as a catalyst and ambassador of good water science and education.

Prof. Bastiaanssen is a guest researcher at IWMI and is a Professor at the Delft University of Technology where he holds the Chair of Water Resources Management and Remote Sensing. He has a background in irrigation and drainage engineering and has a PhD in agro-hydrology, soil physics and groundwater management. His interest is to exploit earth observation data to improve water management worldwide. 

The Special Chair will be principally based at UNESCO-IHE, but will regularly visit IWMI and FAO offices. The establishment of the Special Chair of Global Water Accounting is a joint initiative by the Institute's chair groups of Land and Water Development, Hydrology and Water Resources, Hydroinformatics and Water Management.


Many river basins experience issues of water stress and populations live with an inadequate level of water security. Imminent water crises could jeopardize the social and economic advances of recent years unless urgent action is taken to improve management of water resources. Water stress affects food and energy production, the ecological status of the basin, and adversely impacts on the health and livelihoods of its populations. Climate change and the associated increases in climate variability, as well as other global and regional changes, are expected to exacerbate water issues.

Access to accurate and up to date information continues to be a serious constraint for actors in the fields of natural resources management, in particular for water resources. Considerable progress has been made in many countries in processing and storage of basic data; however, routine access to the information contained in the data is often restricted to the host organization that “owns” the data, limiting the benefits that could be obtained by wider use. Moreover, the integration of data and information from across sectors that depend on access to water remains difficult and subject to case-by-case solutions. 

The lack of access to data in international basins is cause for great concern. There is an urgent need for independently gathered water resources-related data sets that can be commonly understood by hydrologists, economists, agronomists, environmentalists, social scientists, legal experts and political scientists, and that enable evidence-based decision support and policy making.

Research in Global Water Accounting

The concept of water accounting provides a coherent and consistent water resources reporting methodology that comprises hydrological processes, distribution of water to various competing sectors, the consumption of water and the ecosystem services that result from that consumption. 

Water Accounting Plus (WA+) is a continuation of the analytical framework launched by IWMI in 1997, and which has recently been developed further by Delft University of Technology and IWMI. Audited Water Accounts can be the source for evidence based decision making, establishing agreements and joint monitoring with riparian partners, including those across international borders.

UNESCO-IHE, IWMI and FAO have agreed to operationalize WA+ through a standard data repository, through collaborative research. WA+ is complementary to the SEEAW water accounting system of the UN-Statistical Bureau. While WA+ is based on public domain and global data sets, SEEAW requires more local measurements and a dense sensor observatory.

The Special Chair of Global Water Accounting will initiate research and the development of an operational system, and provide the required education and training to graduate students and professionals. The research directions of the chair will focus on the collection of data sets from global hydrological models, remote sensing techniques and thematic data bases, such as irrigated areas, waste water treatment plants, environmental flow requirements etc. 

A prerequisite is that all data sets ought to be public domain. Access to data implies that the water accounts for all major river basins in the world can be computed, an essential starting point to survey the planetary boundaries.

New integration tools for spatial data from multiple sources and multiple scales will be developed as part of the chair's activities. Consistency and reliability of the water flows, fluxes, stocks and water consumption will be investigated. The uncertainty of these data sets and the implication on the accuracy of the water accounts will be described. 

The decision maker has to understand the band width of uncertainty. It is an explicit task of the chair to develop a certification procedure together with other not-for-profit entities within and outside the UN that opens the door for legal water audits.


Tracking Progress on Water SDGs

There is a growing consensus among natural and social scientists that sustainability depends on maintaining natural capital, and in particular on water resources. GDP expresses only one part of economic performance – income – but says nothing about wealth and assets that underlie this income. 

To date, however, progress in moving beyond conceptual thinking towards practical implementation of natural capital valuation has been slow, not the least because of the inability of making these objectives measurable. Therefore, to overcome this obstacle, assessment frameworks for natural capital are needed. An operational water accounting system with a known accuracy, audited and computed with a certified procedure, will facilitate a more cautious management of our environment.

Carbon accounting and carbon footprints are commonly used by responsible governments and agencies, mainly because of the international political agreements on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (Kyoto Protocol). Sustainability Development Goals and Natural Capital Accounting promote the quantification of renewable water resources – and efficient management of scarce natural resources. 

Certified WA+ data series are expected to contribute to the political discussion on achieving sustainable per capita water footprints. These certified data are also expected to play an imporant role on some of the water targets of the Sustainability Development Goals, such as doubling the water productivity in agriculture.