Water is a key driver of economic and social development. It also has a basic function in maintaining the integrity of the natural environment. As a vital natural resource, it is imperative that water issues are not considered in isolation. This is the thinking behind the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach that has now been accepted internationally as the way forward for efficient, equitable and sustainable development and management of the world’s limited water resources and for coping with conflicting demands within a river basin.

This holistic approach is built on the three IWRM pillars:

• Development of socio-economic and institutional resources
• Sustainable management of water and ecosystem resources
• Increase in knowledge resources

In this way, the IWRM acts as an umbrella for many of the key themes of WSSSRP II; building socio-economic and institution resources is at the heart of the Programme particularly in terms of Policy and Governance , and building User Involvement , sustainable management of water as a natural resource requires strategic planning and co-ordination in the States and good Monitoring and Evaluation , increasing knowledge resources includes communication and information access and sharing.

In the Nigerian context, the application of IWRM requires that national socio-economic policies take into account the management of water resources. A Scoping Study of the political economy ahead of the implementation of the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme II (WSSSRPII) in Nigeria indicated that water resources development is generally undertaken without adequate attention to management and conservation. Water sector management has been centralised and entails top-down, command and control mechanisms instead of more inclusive, bottom-up approaches as prescribed in IWRM.

In response, WSSSRP II aims at the adoption of IWRM principles at federal and state levels, and through strengthening the Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Management Commission (NIWRMC) and supporting the establishment/revitalization of State IWRM Committees in the six focal states. The NIWRMC also plans to develop catchment level institutions for each the eight Nigerian hydrological catchments areas.

The Global Water Partnership’s definition of IWRM is widely accepted. It states: ‘IWRM is a process which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems. This concept aims to promote changes in practices which are considered fundamental to improved water resource management. In the current definition, IWRM rests upon three principles that together act as the overall framework:

1. Social equity: ensuring equal access for all users (particularly marginalised and poorer user groups) to an adequate quantity and quality of water necessary to sustain human well-being.
2. Economic efficiency: bringing the greatest benefit to the greatest number of users possible with the available financial and water resources.
3. Ecological sustainability: requiring that aquatic ecosystems are acknowledged, and that adequate allocation is made to sustain their natural functioning.