Which Indicators for Whose Policies? Some Challenges of Global Water Monitoring
Mike Muller
World Water Assessment Programme; Global Water Partnership

Water resources and their management are attracting growing attention as national policy makers realise that water security is threatened by pressures of population and economic growth together with the impacts of climate change.

There is increased interest in monitoring water and accounting for its availability and use in order to manage the vulnerability of societies to the impacts of water scarcity and excess as well as deteriorating water quality. This translates to a demand for meaningful indicators and for the data to populate them, which requires both the definition of appropriate indicators and the generation of the necessary data. This is a difficult task given the complexity of water as a renewable resource and the diversity of the contexts in which it is found and used.

An Expert Group convened by the UN World Water Assessment Programme proposed 15 core indicators but identified limited data as a major obstacle. For many key indicators such as water availability per capita, most countries simply did not have sufficient data to enable trends to be monitored. As a result, the policy process in water has been described as an inverted pyramid – much detailed analysis balanced on a small base of data.

The effective monitoring of water and its use thus requires not just new accounting systems and conceptual indicators that are relevant in a wide range of physical, social and economic contexts but also the development of new data sources to inform these indicators. The challenges of data availability will also necessarily inform the choice of operational and policy indicators. These findings are relevant to the statistical community which will come under increasing pressure from policy makers to help address the technical challenges of generating and translating data into policy useful information.

Keywords: Water resources; Monitoring and management; Indicators and data; Trends

Biography: Mike Muller is a Chartered Engineer with extensive public policy and management experience at national, regional and international level. He was Director General of South Africa's Department of Water Affairs between 1997 and 2005, is a Commissioner of South Africa's National Planning Commission and visiting Adjunct Professor at the Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management in Johannesburg.

He advises various organisations on water and development management, including the Global Water Partnership and the UN Water's World Water Assessment Programme, for which he chaired an expert group on Indicators, Monitoring and Databases.

He has a particular interest in the challenges of informing public policy about water matters. He recently co-edited “Integrated Water Resource Management in Practice: Better Water Management for Development” (Earthscan) and co-authored “Water Management, Water Security and Climate Change Adaptation: Early Impacts and Essential Responses” (GWP).