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Integrated watershed management combines agriculture, aquaculture and irrigation
Integrated watershed management combines agriculture, aquaculture and irrigation
FAO/18871/F.Paladini and R.Carucci

Inland water resources are generally under pressure from the existing demand regimes. Given current levels of demand it is not always possible to protect the environment fully, but the appraisal process must be carried out so as to balance priorities and apply mitigation measures. Among the high priority river basins, 39% by total area are in Africa, 35% in Asia and 26% in Latin America. Using biodiversity-vulnerability measures, the most stressed catchments are to be found in South Africa, the Middle East and western and north-central Europe. An analysis focusing on watersheds as ecological units and on the risks of degradation from human activities that may undermine their ability to provide ecological services and maintain intact the biodiversity within them showed that watersheds ranking highest in biological values are also generally most degraded. Biological value was based on the number of fish species and fish endemics, and the number of areas with endemic birds.

Current knowledge is sufficient for technical interventions to mitigate continuing damage by other users or to rehabilitate impacted systems. Public incapacity to improve the aquatic system lies more in the sphere of policy making and allocation among different user groups. The new need is for political processes that will facilitate compromise by stakeholders and favour integrated resource management.

Robust environmental appraisal processes must be carried out to properly balance resource priorities, guide decisions on allocation and on any mitigation measures that may be necessary. The key problem to be addressed is the promotion of sustainable use of water resources at an optimal level of exploitation, acceptable to all users whilst maintaining the potential to meet the needs and expectations of future generations.

If aquatic resources are to be exploited on a sustainable basis in the future, concerted effort is needed to resolve the conflicts between user groups. Where possible, this must be based on available scientific evidence, close liaison between user groups, full cost-benefit analysis and transparency in the decision-making process. If this is to be successful it must involve cross-education of all user groups and recognition of stakeholder participation and needs. Aquatic resource planning and management tools, such as the river basin management plans being developed by the European Union member countries, should be used to facilitate the process of integrated water resource management.

Inland fish producers will continue to face increasing competition for water from other sources. Fishery stakeholders alone cannot address the challenges, particularly since many of the problems are generated outside the fisheries sector. Integration, better co-ordination of planning and management of resources shared by fisheries and other users, are required in order to facilitate sustainable inland fish production.

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