Integrating “livelihoods” into integrated water resources management: taking the integration paradigm to its logical next step for developing countries


This paper examines the weaknesses in the current understanding of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) from the perspective of livelihoods. Empowering poor people, reducing poverty, improving livelihoods, and promoting economic growth ought to be the basic objectives of IWRM. But as currently understood and used, IWRM often tends to focus on second-generation issues such as cost recovery, reallocation of water to “higher value” uses, and environmental conservation. This paper argues that IWRM needs to be placed in the broader context of both modern Integrated Natural Resource Management (INRM) and the livelihoods approach, which together take a holistic and people-centered approach. The paper concludes with an alternative definition of IWRM as involving the promotion of human welfare, especially the reduction of poverty, encouragement of better livelihoods and balanced economic growth through effective democratic development and management of water and other natural resources in an integrated multilevel framework that is as equitable, sustainable, and transparent as possible, and conserves vital ecosystems. Transparent user-friendly information and models for assisting decision making are essential features of livelihood-oriented IWRM.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Campbell B, Sayer JA, Frost P, Vermeulen S, Perez MR, Cunningham A, Prabhu R (2001) Assessing the performance of natural resource systems. Conservation Ecol 5(2):22. (

    Google Scholar 

  2. Campbell B (2003) Rising the challenge of poverty and environmental sustainability: towards a conceptual and operational framework for INRM. Keynote paper for the SSA-CP programme formulation workshop, FARA, Accra

    Google Scholar 

  3. Cosgrove WJ, Rijsberman FR (2000) World water vision: making water everybody’s business. Earthscan, London, p 108

    Google Scholar 

  4. de Lange M, Penning de Vries FWT (2003) Integrated approaches to natural resource management: theory and practice. paper presented at the international symposium on water conservation technologies for sustainable dryland agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Glen, South Africa, 8–11 April 2003

    Google Scholar 

  5. Global Water Partnership (GWP) (2000) Integrated water resources management. GWP Technical Committee Background Paper 4 Stockholm: GWP.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Global Water Partnership (GWP) (2003) Poverty reduction and IWRM. Final version. GWP Technical Committee Background Paper 8, prepared for the Water and Poverty Initiative. GWP, Stockholm, 16 January 2003.

  7. International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), Natural Resources Institute (NRI), International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF) (2003) Promoting poverty and productive uses of water at the household level, proceedings, international symposium, Johannesburg, 21–23 January 2003.

  8. International Water Management Institute (IWMI) (2003) Position Paper in volume 2 of Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Program Proposal, “Building Sustainable Livelihoods through Integrated Agricultural Research for Development”. Submission to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research prepared by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). FARA, Accra

  9. Lankford B, van Koppen B (2002) Critical analysis of river basin management in the Great Ruaha, Tanzania. Case 121 Toolbox Global Water Partnership.

  10. Lipton M, Litchfield J et al. (2003) Preliminary review of the impact of irrigation on poverty, with special emphasis on Asia. Food and Agriculture Organization (AGL/MISC/34/2003), Rome

  11. Maglinao AR (2001) Management of Soil Erosion Consortium (MSEC), Annual report. IWMI, Colombo

  12. Meinzen-Dick R, Zwarteveen M (1998) Gender participation in water management: issues and illustrations from water user associations in South Asia. In: Merrey D, Baviskar S (eds) Gender analysis and reform of irrigation management: concepts, cases, and gaps in knowledge. Proceedings of the workshop on gender and water. IWMI, Colombo, 15–19 September 1997

  13. Moench M, Dixit A, Janakarajan S, Rathore MS, Mudrakartha S (2003) The fluid mosaic: water governance in the context of variability, uncertainty and change. Synthesis Paper.Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, Kathmandu, and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Boulder

    Google Scholar 

  14. Molden D, Sakthivadivel R, Keller J (2001) Hydronomic zones for developing basin water conservation strategies. IWMI Research Report 56. IWMI, Colombo.

  15. Ngigi SN (2003) Rainwater harvesting for improved food security: promising technologies in the Greater Horn of Africa. Greater Horn of Africa Rainwater Partnership (GHARP) and Kenya Rainwater Harvesting Association (KRA), Nairobi, p 266

    Google Scholar 

  16. Penning de Vries FWT, Acquai H, Molden DJ, Scherr S, Valentin C, Cofie O (2002) Integrated land and water management for food and environmental security. Comprehensive Assessment Research Report 1, International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka and Global Environmental Facility. Washington, p 70

  17. Polak P, Adhikari D, Nanes B, Suryawanshi S (2002) Transforming village water access into profitable business opportunities. Unpublished paper, International Development Enterprises

  18. Renwick ME (2001) Valuing water in irrigated agriculture and reservoir fisheries: a multiple use irrigation system in Sri Lanka. IWMI Research Report 51. IWMI, Colombo.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Sakthivadivel R, Fernando N, Brewer JD (1997) Rehabilitation planning for small tanks in cascades: a methodology based on rapid assessment. IWMI Research Report 13. IWMI, Colombo.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Sayer JA, Campbell B (2001) Research to integrate productivity enhancement, environmental protection, and human development. Conservation Ecol 5(2). (

  21. Schreiner B, van Koppen B (2002) Catchment management agencies for poverty eradication in South Africa. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 27. Elsevier, pp 969–976

  22. Shah T, Makin IW, Sakthivadivel R (2001) Limits to leapfrogging: issues in transposing successful river basin management institutions in the developing world. In: Abernethy C (ed) Intersectoral management of river basins: proceedings of an international workshop on “Integrated Water Management in Water-Stressed River Basins in Developing Countries: Strategies for Poverty Alleviation and Agricultural Growth,” Loskop Dam, 16021 October 2000 Colombo: IWMI and German Foundation for International Development (DSE)

  23. Teng PS, Kropff MJ, Ten Berge HFM, Dent JB, Lansigan FP, Van laar HH (eds) (1995) Applications of systems approaches at the farm and regional levels, vol 1. Kluwer, in cooperation with IRRI and ICASA, Dordrecht, 468 pp

  24. Wester P, Merrey DJ, de Lange M (2003) Boundaries of consent: representation in River Basin management in Mexico and South Africa. World Dev 31(5):797–812

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank K.A.U.S. Imbulana for his suggestions while reviewing the paper; and we thank the other two reviewers appointed by the editors for their useful suggestions. We also thank Ernst Mwape of the Community-based Natural Resources and Sustainable Agriculture (CONASA) for drawing our attention to the concept of Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM). The authors alone are responsible for the final product.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. J. Merrey.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Merrey, D.J., Drechsel, P., de Vries, F.W.T.P. et al. Integrating “livelihoods” into integrated water resources management: taking the integration paradigm to its logical next step for developing countries. Reg Environ Change 5, 197–204 (2005).

Download citation


  • Water Supply System
  • Integrate Water Resource Management
  • Livelihood Approach
  • International Water Management Institute
  • Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper