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Water Accounting and Auditing

Water accounting and auditing (WA&A) is a vital component of planning procedures for water resource management, particularly under conditions of water scarcity and in the face of increasing risks and uncertainties. 

Strategies addressing water scarcity must be based on a thorough understanding of the water balance, including water supply and demand and its spatial and temporal dimensions. The aim of WA&A is to make better use of water-related information when matching and adapting coping strategies to differing biophysical and societal contexts.

FAO promotes water accounting and auditing as mutually supportive processes. Water accounting is the systematic study of the status of, and trends in, water supply, demand, accessibility and use in specified domains. Water auditing goes a step further than water accounting by placing trends in water supply, demand, accessibility and use in the broader context of governance, institutions, public and private expenditure, laws, and the wider political economy of water in specified domains.

Released in 2016, FAO Water Report 43 sets out the concepts of WA&A and provides practical advice for its planning and implementation.

Figure: Overall approach to water accounting and auditing


FAO is developing approaches and tools to streamline WA&A under various conditions and at various scales. Examples of the application of such approaches and tools are available for areas highlighted in red in the map below (dashed areas are basins for which WA&A studies are ongoing or planned).  

FAO generally promotes flexible, problem-focused, WA&A approaches that align with the needs and priorities of key stakeholders, but it also recognizes the merits of standardized approaches that support objective comparisons over time and space. A promising approach is the standardized approach for rapid water accounting through remote sensing under development by UNESCO-IHE and the International Water Management Institute in partnership with FAO. The approach, “Water Accounting+” (WA+), uses global public domain datasets to estimate water balance components, and it reports on the results through a set of standardized indicator sheets. FAO has applied WA+ in three river basins (Okavango, Awash, Helmand), and WA+ exercises are under development in three other river basins (Nile, Niger, Jordan/Litani) in the framework of the Remote Sensing for Water Productivity programme. More information on WA+ is available on the dedicated platform www.wateraccounting.org.