Responding to the need to protect and conserve our water resources, IUCN formed the Global Water Programme in 1985. Since its inception, it has been working across the world, mainly focusing on the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America, and Asia. 


Our initiatives and projects cover multiple areas such as integrated water resource management, environmental flows, water economics, watershed ecosystems, as well as river bank rehabilitation, and the effects of climate change on global water supply and distribution.

The Global Water Programme contributes towards the conservation of water biodiversity by promoting, influencing and catalysing sustainable uses and equitable sharing of resources, as well as protecting ecosystems.


In order to attain these goals, we focus on the following objectives:

  • Further development and implementation of a focused Union-wide Global Water Programme
  • Establishment of an active network of Members, Commissions, Individuals and Institutions to implement the Programme
  • Influencing global debate and decisions on conservation and sustainable use of water resources
  • Establishment of partnerships through the implementation of joint activities on water conservation (eg. the Head of IUCN’s Global Water Programme also sits on the Board of Governors of the World Water Council – WWC

Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) : Making Waves in the 21st Century

WANI was the first Global Water Programme initiative and in 2000 spearheaded the World Water Vision. This Vision recognised that water is the basis for all living ecosystems, and envisioned a world in which adequate water is available to meet basic human needs in an equitable manner and in harmony with nature. In the same year, IUCN published the Water and Nature – Vision and Framework for Action.

Based on wide consultation over the preceding two years with organisations ranging from grassroots, community-based organisations to international agencies, the World Water Vision put nature at the centre of the emerging global agenda on water and development. Its message was very clear: to achieve a sustainable society that cares for its resources, we must establish a fundamentally new paradigm for the use, development and conservation of water resources.

Integrating Techniques to a Streamlined System

With global consensus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), transformation to sustainability must be embedded in development and universal goals for reducing poverty. The key element of the new paradigm advocated in the Water and Nature Vision was identified as implementing IWRM (Integrated Water Resources Management) using an ecosystem approach within river basins. 

WANI was IUCN’s response to the global agenda on water and development in 2000 and the call to move from vision to action. Its main goal was: “Mainstreaming of an ecosystem approach into catchment policies, planning and management.”

WANI's 6 Strategic Objectives

  • Component 1 - to demonstrate ecosystem management in river basins
  • Component 2 - to support wise governance of water resources and wetlands
  • Component 3 - to develop and apply economic tools and incentive measures
  • Component 4 - to empower people to participate in sustainable water management
  • Component 5 - to improve knowledge to support decision making
  • Component 6 - to learn lessons to raise awareness on wise water use

A New Way to Think About Water

Under the ‘demonstration logic’ of WANI, demonstration sites were set up to contribute directly to the implementation of IWRM at river basin and national levels using a ‘learning-by-doing’ method. Demonstrations projects were not limited to testing of IWRM implementation, but were also a focus for the learning, partnerships and empowerment needed to catalyse change. Demonstrations were strengthened by the value of IUCN as a network, bridging members and partners in governments, NGOs and local community organisations to influence policy change.