Global International Waters Assessment


Geographical coverage

Geographical scale of the assessment Global,Regional
Country or countries covered
Any other necessary information or explanation for identifying the location of the assessment, including site or region name

The assessment included 66 subregions and 9 megaregions, giving it an international coverage but without providing global coverage. It provides a global perspective to a series of regional assessments.

Conceptual framework, methodology and scope

Assessment objectives

Considering the general decline in the condition of the world’s aquatic resources and the internationally recognised need for a globally coherent assessment of transboundary waters, the primary objectives of the GIWA were:

  • To provide a prioritising mechanism that allows the GEF to focus their resources so that they are used in the most cost effective manner to achieve significant environmental benefits, at national, regional and global levels; and

  • To highlight areas in which governments can develop and implement strategic policies to reduce environmental degradation and improve the management of aquatic resources.

Mandate for the assessment

GIWA is a water programme led by the United Nations Environment Programme. GIWA is funded to about 50 per cent by the Global Environment Facility, GEF. Other major donors are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Finnish Department for International Development Co-operation, and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (Sida). GIWA has been working since 1999. Its main executing agency is Kalmar University in Sweden, where the GIWA Core Team and Co-ordination Office is located.

The aim of GIWA (Global International Waters Assessment) is to produce a comprehensive and integrated global assessment of international waters, the ecological status of and the causes of environmental problems in 66 water areas in the world, and focus on the key issues and problems facing the aquatic environment in transboundary waters. It is to be a systematic assessment of the environmental conditions and problems in international waters, comprising marine, coastal and freshwater areas, and surface waters as well as ground waters. GIWA is intended as a comparable assessement in support of the implementation of the international waters component of GEF, that may be used by GEF and its partners to identify priorities for remedial and mitigatory actions in international waters, designed to achieve significant environmental benefits at national, regional and global levels. GIWA is designed not merely to analyze the current problems and their societal root causes, but to develop scenarios of the future condition of the world's water resources and analyze policy options. Ultimately, the aim is to provide sound scientific advice to decision-makers and managers concerned with water resources and dealing with environmental problems and threats to transboundary water bodies.

Conceptual framework and/or methodology used for the assessment

Other (please specify)

GIWA conceptual framework was prepared in 2002, with a detailed document on methodology for the assessment, including components of the subregional assessments framework (scaling, scoping, detailed assessment, causal chain analysis and policy option analysis). Report sheets were prepared to ensure that information collected from each subregion was comparable. The conceptual model included social and economic impacts, environmental impacts, immediate causes, sector activities and root causes. This was a very systematic approach that provided detailed guidance to those collecting the information in each subregion.

URL or copy of conceptual framework developed or adapted !

System(s) assessed

  • Marine
  • Coastal
  • Inland water

Species groups assessed


Ecosystem services/functions assessed


  • Food
  • Water
  • Energy/fuel


  • Regulation of water flows
  • Regulation of water quality

Supporting Services/Functions

Cultural Services

Scope of assessment includes

Drivers of change in systems and services


Impacts of change in services on human well-being


Options for responding/interventions to the trends observed


Explicit consideration of the role of biodiversity in the systems and services covered by the assessment


Timing of the assessment

Year assessment started

Pre 2000

Year assessment finished


If ongoing, year assessment is anticipated to finish

Periodicity of assessment

One off

Assessment outputs


GIWA Final Report, regional assessment reports, thematic reports, articles and other special reports:


GIWA Final Report: Challenges to International Waters; Regional Assessments in a Global Perspective

Communication materials (e.g. brochure, presentations, posters, audio-visual media)

GIWA Brochure

Journal publications

Training materials

Other documents/outputs

Tools and processes

Tools and approaches used in the assessment

  • Geospatial analysis
  • Indicators
  • Scenarios
  • Economic valuation
  • Social (non-monetary) valuation

Process used for stakeholder engagement in the assessment process and which component

Stakeholder involvement in the assessment was primarily at the subregional level and involved mostly the scientific community.

Key stakeholder groups engaged

GIWA was a UNEP-led and GEF-funded programme, with Kalmar University (City of Kalmar) as the main executing agency hosting the GIWA Core Team and Co-ordination Office. Other partners were:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA

  • Finnish Department for International Development Co-operation

  • Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency, Sida

  • World Bank Group

  • UN Development Programme, UNDP

  • Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection, GESAMP

In addition, a network of stakeholders in the water sphere provided access to data and other information. The global GIWA Network consists of participating organizations, institutions, groups, teams, and individuals on a global, megaregional, subregional and national level.

The number of people directly involved in the assessment process

More than 1000

Incorporation of scientific and other types of knowledge

  • Scientific information only
  • Resource experts (e.g. foresters etc)

Supporting documentation for specific approaches, methodology or criteria developed and/or used to integrate knowledge systems into the assessment

Assessment reports peer reviewed



Accessibility of data used in assessment

The data upon which the assessment based its reports were collected in the field through interviews and literature.

Policy impact

Impacts the assessment has had on policy and/or decision making, as evidenced through policy references and actions

At the time, GIWA was the largest global assessment of a broad array of ecosystem-wide water issues from a transboundary perspective, holistically assessing international river basins and their adjacent LMEs. GIWA prioritised and provided information on transboundary aquatic concerns so that regional and international policy makers and managers could better manage international waters.

Independent or other review on policy impact of the assessment


Lessons learnt for future assessments from these reviews

Its policy impact was primarily through its influence on the international waters projects supported by the Global Environment Facility. The regional reports were expected to be relevant to policymakers in the countries involved, but no assessment was available on the policy impacts of these reports.

GIWA’s bottom-up approach was the project’s greatest strength. Regional teams conducted the assessment based on existing regional data and information, and adapted the methodology to the local conditions. In many GIWA regions, the assessment process has strengthened communication between social and natural scientists, as well as managers, providing the basis for long-term collaboration. It has also fostered transboundary cooperation and new partnerships within the regions and between neighbouring regions. GIWA not only assessed the available policy critical information, but also identified key knowledge gaps. GIWA’s bottom-up approach resulted in strong local ownership of the GIWA regional reports.

In many regional teams, however, social scientists and policy specialists were underrepresented and stakeholder involvement was limited in several policy option analyses. Information availability varied regionally and nationally, especially between developed and developing regions, which affected the accuracy and comparability of the results.

In future, the methodology should further incorporate the multitude of interactions between the various concerns and issues. Greater involvement of governments and various stakeholder groups would strengthen the causal chain and policy options analyses. It is essential to maintain close links with other assessment projects in order to avoid conflicting approaches and duplication of efforts, particularly in regions where scientific and technical expertise are limited.

Capacity building

Capacity building needs identified during the assessment

Regional Assessment Reports identified capacity building needs specific to each region. In most GIWA regions there were deficiencies in the technical, administrative and managerial capacity of institutions responsible for water and environmental management and enforcement. Communication between social and natural scientists, as well as managers, needs strengthening.

Actions taken by the assessment to build capacity

Network and sharing experiences, Access to funding, Sharing of data/repatriation of data, Workshops, Developing/promoting and providing access to support tools, Formal training

How have gaps in capacity been communicated to the different stakeholders

Regional Assessment Reports;

Knowledge generation

Gaps in knowledge identified from the assessment

Knowledge gaps varied between GIWA regions. For example data availability, accessibility and quality, as well as scientific and technical knowledge and expertise varied between developing and developed regions.

How gaps in knowledge have been communicated to the different stakeholders


Additional relevant information