The Global Water Initiative (GWI) was an action-research and advocacy programme that ran from 2008-17. The project is now closed. This site is no longer being updated, but allows access to GWI outputs until 1 October 2020 when it will also close. After that date, information about the project and core GWI technical publications will continue to be available from the IIED website and Publications Library.

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IWRM & WASH (2008-2012)

Recent droughts across the Sahel region have drawn international attention to the world’s water crisis. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 14 African countries are already experiencing water stress, and another 11 countries are expected to join them by 2025. By which time nearly 50 per cent of Africa’s predicted population of 1.45 billion people will face water stress or scarcity.

Poor countries with arid climates are hard hit by environmental degradation, population expansion and the inequitable allocation of water. As precious water resources become scarcer, potential for conflict over water will increase.

In West Africa, the biggest rivers traverse many countries, giving rise to trans-boundary tensions. But there is also competition at a local level, where neighbouring rural communities draw on the same scarce resources. These factors combine to make the populations of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Senegal amongst the world’s most vulnerable to water shortages.

Lack of quick access to clean water and sanitation is not merely inconvenient. It determines whether infants live or die. It means parents may not be able to grow enough to feed their children. It keeps girls out of school, and it locks women into an exhausting cycle of spending their days walking for hours simply to fetch the water required to look after their families’ most basic needs.


GWI West Africa’s work from 2008-2012 was divided into four key themes:

IWRM: Many users, limited water

Integrated Water Resources Management is a holistic, future-oriented, collaborative approach to managing water resources within watersheds. It is a dynamic process requiring regular monitoring, the participation of all stakeholders, and adjustments based on ever-changing rainfall and river flows.

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People matter: Drinking clean water forever

Access to clean water determines whether babies live beyond infancy, whether they grow healthily, whether children go to school, whether families can eat and earn a living. For this reason, we want to help make sure that West Africa’s vulnerable populations have reliable access to clean water.

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Sustainable sanitation

The MDG target for sanitation was to halve the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation by 2015. However, progress has been too slow, and unless the pace of change in the sanitation sector can be accelerated, the MDG target may not be reached until 2026. Every year, 2.2 million people (mostly children younger than 5) still die due to sanitation-related diseases and poor hygienic conditions.

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Learning: Monitoring outcomes, changing practice

The GWI West Africa consortium represented an unprecedented opportunity to share ideas and methods for tackling the complex challenges of sustainable access to clean water and sanitation and integrated water resource management at sub-basin level. We strategically set out to involve local, national and regional water constituencies in learning and strengthening collaborative partnerships, sharing what has worked well and learning from our mistakes.

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The regional GWI consortium for West Africa (2007-2012) included the following members:

CARE International

Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

SOS Sahel International UK