IWMI Annual Report 2017 Our focus on global water challenges

Message from our Board Chair and Director General

Catastrophic flooding around the globe, together with severe drought in Eastern Africa, kept water-related disasters very much in the public eye during 2017. The water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, unfolding several months prior to publication of this annual report, further intensified worldwide concern about the perils of water scarcity and possible solutions.

CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE)

At the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference, leaders adopted a draft agreement to address climate change through agricultural solutions. This reinforced the foundational role agriculture needs to play in climate change and food security.

Against this backdrop, WLE (led by IWMI) and its 12 other core partners launched Phase Two, with the support of CGIAR Fund Donors. The program continued to build resilience through better management of land, water and biodiversity – and the ecosystems in which people depend on these natural resources. As a research-for-development program, WLE connects IWMI to networks of partners delivering integrated solutions that change agriculture from a driver of environmental degradation to part of the solution.

Building Resilience

Floods, droughts and other water-related hazards, together with pressures stemming from unsustainable agricultural practices, water pollution and overuse of aquifers, pose serious risks for food systems, rural livelihoods and the ecosystems on which all of us depend. IWMI researchers deliver water management solutions and decision-support tools that better enable smallholder farmers, resource managers and policy makers to reduce the risks and create new opportunities for communities to thrive, despite climate change impacts and other stresses.

Vital assistance to prepare for climate disasters

Extreme weather takes a heavy toll on communities and economies around the world. The number of climate-related disasters, globally, has increased from an average of 195 per year between 1987 and 1998 to 338 per year between 2000 and 2011. For effective disaster planning, governments need to know where current and future disaster events are likely to take place, and which people and economies will be most affected. But, how?

Laying the groundwork for solar-powered irrigation

The potential benefits of solar energy for irrigation in developing countries are clear. It offers smallholder farmers the possibility of “free” uninterrupted daytime power, provides governments with a means to reduce carbon emissions, and has the potential to create new markets for solar pumps and related technology.

The water productivity renaissance

The longstanding concept of agricultural water productivity, which involves the valuation of farm outputs relative to the amount of water used, is undergoing a renaissance. IWMI began developing this approach two decades ago as part of a widening effort to address water scarcity.

How to manage “hidden” water resources

The pressure on surface water has risen steadily over the past decade, as climate change has made its availability more variable, and as expanding cities, industry and agriculture have all increased water demand. In response, nations have increasingly turned to groundwater as an alternative, reliable water supply.

Sustainable Growth

Current patterns of global economic growth are neither sufficiently inclusive nor are they environmentally sustainable. It is difficult to see how countries can attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without a major change in direction. Building on a solid record of achievement, IWMI researchers inform policy debates and identify practical solutions to guide decisions and investments toward better resolution of issues such as the trade-offs between water, energy and food security, and more equitable sharing of development benefits.

Water and women’s empowerment

IWMI was among the first organizations to reveal the connections between gender and irrigation, and is today considered an authority on gender and water for multiple uses.

IWMI rural sociologist Barbara van Koppen was invited to share the Institute’s expertise by preparing a paper for an Expert Group Meeting held in September 2017, ahead of the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which took place in March 2018. Titled “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls,” the meeting was called by UN Women, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Food Programme.

Water as a catalyst for cooperation not conflict

Narratives around transboundary water management all too often highlight potential conflicts. Yet, IWMI’s ongoing work in at least eight major international river basins suggests that such views can be misleading.

In 2017, IWMI researchers improved knowledge sharing in support of sustainable management of water resources in the Indus Basin; shared valuable expertise and experiences through new books; and helped lay the groundwork for effective water resource governance in Southeast Asia’s Salween River Basin. Findings from this body of work indicate that managing transboundary rivers presents great potential for stimulating cooperation on multiple scales.

Gauging progress toward global water goals

As the SDGs were taking shape several years ago, IWMI worked closely with United Nations agencies to ensure that water quantity and quality, along with ecosystem health, were incorporated into the indicators for monitoring progress toward the goals. This was particularly the case for SDG 6, which seeks to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Rural-Urban Linkages

Rapid urbanization is putting enormous pressure on cities and the surrounding countryside to provide safe food and water, while enhancing human and environmental health. For peri-urban communities struggling to meet these needs, mounting volumes of untreated waste present both challenges as well as opportunities. IWMI helps address both through pioneering research that delivers new knowledge together with advisory services focused on wastewater management, and new business approaches to the recovery and reuse of potentially valuable resources from waste.

The vast extent of wastewater use in agriculture

More than two decades ago, IWMI published a report indicating that some 20 million hectares of farmland around the world were being irrigated with wastewater. The publication estimated for the first time the extent to which farmers in developing countries were relying on contaminated water to grow crops, and drew attention to the scale of the potential health risks of the practice.

Showcasing effective resource recovery and reuse

With a growing global population, increasing demand for meat and dairy products, and the need to produce climate-friendly biofuels, more water is needed for agriculture. Yet, cities and industry increasingly compete with farmers for already tight water supplies, and climate change is making the availability of water more variable. Where groundwater is scarce, desalination impractical and long-distance water transfers too costly, recycling of wastewater will be key to overcoming this challenge. Specifically, it will help strengthen resilience, underpin food security and contribute to the green economies of our future cities.


Mission: Provide evidence-based solutions to sustainably manage water and land resources for food security, people’s livelihoods and the environment.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) strives to fulfill its mission through three strategic programs (listed below) whose purpose is to build an evidence base for new approaches that address key water-related development challenges. Our researchers work across sectors and disciplines through eight research groups (as indicated in the drawing) to deliver new knowledge, policy advice and capacity development.

IWMI office locations and countries where we have projects underway

Board of Governors

Left to right: Sisira Kumara, Barbara Schreiner, Gebisa Ejeta, Don Blackmore (Chair), Claudia Sadoff, Roberto Lenton, Syon Niyogi (Corporate Services Director), Chemutai Murgor and David Grey.

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Writing/editing: Carolyn Fry, Nathan Russell, Adam Hunt and Mahen Chandrasoma

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Photos: Nana Kofi Acquah, Hamish John Appleby, inside, front cover, Australian Water Partnership, Sanjiv de Silva, Patrick Drown, Maheder Haileselassie, Manuel Magombeyi, Matthew McCartney, V. Dakshina Murthy, Adam Öjdahl, Neil Palmer, Chhandak Pradhan, Samurdhi Ranasinghe, Nathan Russell, Faseeh Shams, Georgina Smith, Prashanth Vishwanathan.

Web layout: Dominique Perera, Manoj Jayasuriya, Samurdhi Ranasinghe.

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