Internationally Shared Aquifers Resources Management Programme (ISARM)


Jointly implemented with the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2000, ISARM aims to set up a network of specialists and experts to compile a world inventory of transboundary aquifers and develop wise practices and guidance tools concerning shared groundwater resources management.

The regional importance of groundwater as a source of water supply is well known. The UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP) and the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) have done much to stimulate the development of methods and techniques needed to improve the understanding of groundwater systems. Still, when it comes to considering regional and global water policy issues, the physical status and quality trends of groundwater resources have not been adequately taken into account.

UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Member States have raised concerns about the lack of systematic assessment of the resources of key aquifers and problems related to their development, management and protection. Recommendations have been made for improved collection and sharing of groundwater data, the establishment of a groundwater resources assessment centre and for a higher profile for groundwater issues. Because geological formations have no regard for water catchments or national boundaries, resources in many aquifers are shared by adjacent states and require transboundary management. Very little attention has so far been given to transboundary aquifers.

It is ISARM’s aim to fill this gap by preparing an ‘ISARM toolkit’, comprising detailed technical guidelines, examples of legal and other institutional frameworks, a fully referenced database and extended case studies, highlighting the scientific, socio-economic, as well as legal and institutional problems that can be addressed by sound management principles.

Cooperation activities between UNESCO-IHP and the GEF International Waters Focal Area

Since 2003 the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) have initiated a fruitful cooperation on a growing portfolio of groundwater and transboundary aquifer related activities within the GEF International Waters Focal Area.

In particular, since 2000 UNESCO-IHP under the Internationally Shared Aquifer Resources Management (ISARM) Initiative together with its regional ISARM partner organizations have organized global, regional and sub-regional inventories of transboundary aquifers. In this context UNESCO supported the development of the UNILC Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, adopted under the UN GA Resolution 63/124 (2008). Based on these and other comparative advantages, UNESCO is contributing with its knowledge, long-standing experience and well-established networks in the field of sustainable management of water resources to achieve the ambitious objectives of the projects implemented in the framework of the GEF International Waters Focal Area.

The management of groundwater resources, both in the national and in the transboundary context is one of the specific strengths of UNESCO-IHP and of central importance in the context of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in view of the goal of sustainable development. Besides the successful initiation and formulation of a GEF groundwater portfolio and execution of regional projects in Africa, America, Asia and South-Eastern Europe UNESCO-IHP, with its particular experience on groundwater resources management has also significantly contributed to global initiatives financed by the GEF such as the preparations for the GEF-IW Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme (TWAP), the GEF-IW Science Project together with a study for a GEF-IW RAF groundwater indicators approach.

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