Guided Paper: Water Accounting Reporting
System –WARS Framework from Concept to Implementation for Sustainable Water Management
Head of MENA Region, International Water Management Institute-IWMI, Egypt
Submission: February 06, 2020; Published: February 18, 2020
*Corresponding author: Amgad Elmahdi, Head of MENA Region, International Water Management Institute-IWMI, Egypt
How to cite this article: Amgad Elmahdi. Guided Paper: Water Accounting Reporting System –WARS Framework from Concept to Implementation for Sustainable Water Management. Int J Environ Sci Nat Res. 2020; 23(4): 556118. DOI: 10.19080/IJESNR.2020.23.556118
Four years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, UN-Water reports show the world is off track to achieve the water goal – the heart of the SDGs-, thus the same goes for all water related SDGs (only 10 years to harvest SDGs). Amid lots of highlights on what we need to do, governments must decide how to incorporate SDG 6 targets into national planning processes, policies and strategies and set their own targets, taking into account local circumstances and contexts including cultural. The SDGs anticipate substantial improvements in the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of water use; safe treatment and reuse of wastewater; integrated approaches to water management; and, the resilient food production systems. When well-adapted and well-implemented, water accounting provides countries and/or regions that face increasing water scarcity a sound and transparent basis for managing the scarce water resources and take actions to achieve relevant SDGs and other targets including evaluating water resources plan and developments.
However, Water accounting system needs to be tailored, integrated, detailed, and standardized. Accurate water accounting is vital for understanding hydrological processes, managing water flows and informed dialogue about water and future planning. For this reason, various organizations, including Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), other UN agencies, IHE Delft, IWMI and WWC have joined forces to develop standard frameworks for water accounting. However, there is a gap in understanding their implementation and use for what purpose including consisting reporting system. This paper is discussing the challenges in designing a water accounting system that fit for purpose at the country level or at any other spatial scales, that might require the use of one or many of these water accounting’s frameworks by itself or in combination with other tools such as modelling, remote sensing, data analysis, etc. It will attempt to provide a consensus understanding of water accounting reporting system-WARS for sustainable water use and management, policy development and informing water debates. This water accounting reporting system-WARS framework will facilitate the water accounting system design and development at the country level. The paper will also provide insight on how to establish a water accounting team in the country to facilitate the process of WARS.
Keywords: Water management; Sustainable development goals; Institutionalized; Hydrology; Hydrogeology; Economy; Environment; Social
The SDGs are not just a global reporting exercise, but rather involve a global program that holds country-led national efforts and actions . For centuries, the control and delivery of water without the appropriate institutional framework has changed states and economies across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In the 20th century, infrastructure development tamed key river systems and led to huge expansion in irrigation, while population nearly quadrupled. Despite important advances in water management, MENA region is thus becoming a hotspot of challenges posed by goals of sustainable water use. The SDGs anticipate substantial improvements in the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of water use; safe treatment and reuse of wastewater; integrated approaches to water management; and, the resilient food production systems that is essential for the MENA region’s future .
Global, regional and local expertise shows that innovative technical and business solutions in combination with “Water Accounting” can result in improved water management and water security, which is central for rapid progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Amgad Elmahdi 2018) [3-6]. Upscaling of these solutions requires major changes in water policy and practice supported by appropriate new instruments like Water Accounting. Water Accounting (WA) is a relatively new concept and tool developed to bridge the world of natural water resources management and productive water use.
Water accounting mimics the financial accounting in its principles
and seeks to provide comprehensive, consistent and comparable
information related to water for policy- and decision-making to
promote a sustainable use of water resources as well as equitable
and transparent water governance among water users.
Accurate water accounting is vital for understanding
hydrological processes, managing water flows and informed
dialogue about water and future planning. For this reason, various
organizations, including Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations (FAO), other UN agencies, IHE Delft, IWMI
and WWC have joined forces to develop standard frameworks for
water accounting . However, these actions produced different
frameworks that are mainly based on two approaches:
a) Flow accounting methods (FAO’s Aquastat, UN’s SEEWater,
and Australian Water Accounting) and
b) Depletion accounting methods (ICID, IWMI-WA and
joined force by IHE, IWMI and FAO for WA+).
The principles behind these two approaches are, flow
accounting is using more measured data while the second
(depletion accounting) is tracking water depletions (consumptive
use of water) rather than withdrawals using remote sensing
techniques. However, implementation and adoption of any
of these frameworks are hindered by lacking the institutional
framework and a clear roadmap to develop water accounting
system that is tailored to the case (basin, region, country,
etc). These can maximize the benefits of implementing water
accounting for sustainable water management that can dealing
with the many actors in the water sectors, filling the gap in water
information in relation to water management and realize the
polarization in the water sector in relation to water allocation
and addresses the relation between soft and hard institutions.
These two hindered factors were answered  by proposing the
roadmap to designing a tailored water accounting system at the
country level and providing institutional framework (to support
the institutionalization of the water accounting).
It is notable, implementation of any of these frameworks or
water accounting approaches also require understanding of their
purpose and how they can fit in the water accounting system that
meet the country needs within the water accounting reporting
framework. This paper is providing a water accounting-reporting
system-WARS that positioning all these frameworks in the context
of how to develop water accounting system and for what purpose
at multi-scalar level from field, scheme, district, basin and national
considering administrative and hydrological boundaries and
their overlapping in most of the cases. When water accounting is
well-adapted, designed and implemented, it provides countries
and/or regions that face increasing water scarcity a sound and
transparent basis for managing the scarce water resources and
take actions to achieve relevant SDGs and other targets including
evaluating water resources plan and developments
The concept of Water accounting is not new and it was
debatable, early in the 80s, there was a demand for green accounts
by the French government that led to the first effort to propose a
water accounting framework both physical and financial water
accounting . This followed by piloting in early 90s by Spain and
France, however, did not developed further . The UN Economic
and Social division built on that framework to develop SEEAW
that was published in 2012. In the meantime, the Australian
government announced the water act 2007 and mandated the
national water accounting (BOM, 2010). It can be noted, from its
implementation and adoptions, it is nearly a new concept.
Water accounting can be commonly defined as it is a systematic
study of the hydrological cycle and the current status and future
trends in both water supply and demand. Beyond the simple
accounting of volumes and flows, it also focuses on issues relating
to accessibility, uncertainty and governance of water. Therefore,
Water Accounting is a critical tool to support any initiative aiming
at addressing the challenges of water scarcity . Various
organizations, including Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (FAO), other UN agencies, Bureau of Meteorology-
Australia, IHE Delft, IWMI and WWC have joined forces to develop
standard frameworks for water accounting . These frameworks
are fit for different purposes and are using different assumptions,
tools, approaches and data requirements . Table 1, presents
an overarching comparison of these frameworks to serve as
simple guide to inform the choice of the framework that can meet
the needs of the country.
A well designed and institutionalized water accounting
a) Systems and/or platforms for acquiring and managing
data and information.
b) A range of methods, models and tools for processing,
c) Analyzing and interpreting of outputs.
d) A specialized team with relevant knowledge and
experience (hydrology, hydrogeology, economy, environment,
social, GIS, etc) who are located in the same office or working at
different institutional levels in different regions of a country.
e) Active engagement with key stakeholders and users who
may share data and/or use water accounting outputs; and,
f) Enabling institutional environment (soft and hard) for
mandates and accountability
Applying these frameworks will benefits to empower the
water managers, user and the country to develop a tailored water
accounting system, reporting on SDGs, and sustainably manage their water resources. Investments are really needed at the
country level to be able to develop their tailored water accounting.
Therefore, for any country to start that investment, there is a need
to understand where all these frameworks are positioned within
the context of water accounting reporting.
Some water accounting systems are standardized to the point
that one size fits all. However, most water accounting systems can
be tailored to meet the priority demands and needs of a country
or a region. Arguably, to design a water accounting system, it
needs to be:
a) Standardized in terms of its procedures, principles,
concepts and terminology.
b) Tailored to the availability of relevant remotely sensed
and terrestrial information.
c) Tailored to the needs, priorities and scales of most
interest to potential users of water accounting outputs.
d) Take a multi-scalar approach or nested structure system
that typically involves analysis and modelling at three or more
scales or institutional levels.
e) Take explicit account of uncertainty and ensure that
levels of uncertainty in outputs are communicated along with
f) Communicate outputs in forms and formats that meet
the requirements of decision makers
g) Make good use of secondary information and open
h) Make good use of advances in informatics and cybertechnologies
e.g. interactive visualizations and dashboards,
web-based applications etc.
i) Make good use of advances in data acquisition methods/
tools and have dynamic links to databases, web-based
environmental sensors etc.
Without doubt, operationalizing and institutionalizing water
accounting is a challenging process that takes time and need
collective actions from all stakeholders with a clear champion
for the process and implementation . There are number of
lessons learns reported in the literature .
a) Data availability, sharing, accessibility and gaps: In
MENA region, data sharing is one of the key hinder factors. There
is still unwillingness amongst key stakeholders to share data
where data is treated as treasure and provide level of job security
and, in some cases, hydrometric networks are poorly maintained
and not oriented to collecting data on return flows. Unwillingness
to share data is difficult to address, however it can be facilitated
in the process of water auditing and accessibility of global remote
sensing data. In contrast, there are many opportunities for
improving hydrometric networks using, for example, new (and
cheaper) web-based based sensors and communication systems.
Indeed, at present, insufficient and lack of accessibility of the data
are the biggest limitations to meaningful water accounting, and
therefore understanding of their water-related risks and impacts.
These limitations are:
Lack of access to data
Insufficient granularity of data
Data collection and monitoring
Data accuracy and uncertainty
Lack of regulation for data sharing
b) Team skills: In the MENA region, water-related
government ministries and departments are well-endowed with
engineers. Engineers are needed in water accounting teams, but
not only them. An effective and meaningful water accounting
requires specialist with knowledge and experience in hydrology/
hydrogeology, meteorology, agronomy, informatics, cyber
technology, GIS and remotes sensing, economics, stakeholder
engagement, communication etc
c) Operational and investment strategy: Water accounting
is being piloted in a number of countries without further
commitments as it is requires an operational strategy that
accompanied with investment strategy to get the right skills,
acquiring the right data (monitoring) and tailor tools or system.
MENA’s region GDP is the most impacted by water scarcity 70%
in comparison to 24% world, this should encourage governments
to investment in operationalizing water accounting. However,
government departments in the MENA region have limited
human capacity and financial resources to institutionalize
comprehensive water accounting systems that operate at
multiple scales and institutional levels. As a result, problem and/
or opportunity focused water accounting has been recommended
that concentrates resources on acquiring and analyzing data
related to priority issues or needs and scales of most interest.
d) Preparedness of water managers: As in other regions of
the world, decision-making based on intuition and repetition of
earlier decisions is common among the MENA region’s water and
irrigation sectors. A key challenge is therefore to shift to decision
making that is well informed by facts and evidence produced and
scrutinized water accounting and auditing processes. Outputs
from water accounting are subject to high levels of uncertainties.
The level increases when the input data are “uncertain” (gaps in
data sets, badly functioning monitoring instruments etc.). Some of
this uncertainty is essentially irreducible. Reducible uncertainty is
best addressed by cycles of targeted learning aimed at improving the confidence in water accounting outputs. Uncertainty increases
when the scale of the water accounting does not match the scale
of the needed information (e.g., Basin scale water accounting
may not provide good information on water supply, demand, and
infrastructure on small/local scale).Water managers, need to
accept numbers with uncertainty boundary and be able to make
e) Misconception of Whole system water accounting: To
date, water accounting pilots in the many countries have focused
mainly on trials and errors of applying one of water accounting
frameworks by junior staff. Lack of understanding of the water
accounting frameworks and its capacity, purpose and outputs,
left the senior manager to call it system that can do everything
and replace other system such as operational river system. This
is a misconception that need to be revert and build the capacity
of senior managers on what is water accounting and what can
do and what is water accounting system means or involve (many
elements as described in WARS).
Water Accounting Reporting System-WARS is a systematic
way to bring all elements together to provide consensus
understanding on data, tools, analysis, outputs, reports and key
questions answered by the account. It facilitates the discussion
between all stakeholders in the design, development and
implementation phases according to their case and scale. It can
also help in defining the role and power for each partner or
stakeholders in operationalizing and institutionalizing the water
accounting and how the information produced are suitable to who
(technical, professional, managers and public). Figure 1 shows the
key elements in the WARS. These elements are water
a) Accounting tools,
b) Water accounting outputs/line items and
c) Water accounting reporting.
WARS conceptualize all these three elements and their
inter-relation. WARS, starting by presenting the problem and
defining the purpose of the water accounting from the country’s
perspectives that could water allocation between sectors. This
is the first step before looking at the water accounting tools that
could involve many components to design water accounting
system. These components are
a) Data that could be primary/measured data or secondary
data (reports and other database),
b) Estimated data through analysis (water balance, trend,
etc) and models (existing or new according to the case),
c) Expert opinion where data or model are not available,
d) Supporting tools for water accounting such as WA+
(where there is limited data), SEEW (where the focus on economic
and environmental values), etc.
The second element of WARS is Water accounting outputs/
line items (adopting financial terms). It is focus on the case study
and its boundaries as administrative, hydrological, combined in
relation to the purpose, or questions in interests. This element
a) The water system components by water sources (surface
water, groundwater, desalination, wastewater, etc, according to
the case (irrigation or urban or basin for example)
b) The change in water availability such as rainfall,
recharge, transfer, return flow, etc
c) The change in water abstraction/use by source and use
d) The change of rights or allocation or use.
The third element is water accounting reporting, that transfer
water accounting outputs into a structure consistent report to
communicate the water accounting outputs to wider audiences.
The report needs to cover these main components:
a) How much water available and its status?
b) How much water used and its status?
c) Who has the right to use and existing regulations?
d) What and where indicators that related to value of the
water accounting such as water productivity by system or region,
WARS presented a reporting system with clear processes
however these processes are interconnected with feedbacks loop
through stakeholders and users engagements. The processes of
implementation of the WARS need to be owned and derived by
specialist team (water accounting team). The structure of this
team has to enabling itself to serve and deliver these processes
to produce a meaningful water accounting report and outcomes.
The commitment to establishing a water accounting team with
the mandates to develop water accounting is require investment
from the country to empower the team and also address some
of the challenges that encountering in operationalizing and
institutionalizing water accounting. The following section
discussing the proposed structure of the team and its function.
The structure of the water accounting team/unit has four key
elements: Institutions, System, Data and Team . The author
discussed each component briefly. In this section, the paper is
drill into the team component that provide the human resources
that produce the account and validate its inputs and outputs. The
paper proposing to structure the team into two groups: Analysts
and Producers. These Analysts and Producers need to be setting
and working together closely but also in close collaboration and
communication with other stakeholders to the extension they
can be setting physically at their premises or in ideal world, each
stakeholder will have its small team to support water accounting
activities where all form the team at the national level.
The roles of both Producers and Analysts are very
complementary and each group is not strong without the other
group. Each group provide specific skills and functions to the
team. For example, producers provide the key technical skills
required producing the water accounting; whiling, Analysts
provide the key insights and analysis functions to the inputs and
outputs of the water accounting to support the production of the
water accounting report.
The key roles of the team/unit of water accounting is to support
the sustainable water resources management, distribution and
allocation and supporting the water resources policy, planning,
development and monitoring; provide strategic technical services
for investigations, studies, and special projects; and serve as the
technical water resources information Centre at the country level.
This is needs be clear in their mandates to provide systematic,
regular, authoritative, standardized, and comparable water
information to serve the national objectives and priorities.
To serve these roles and country’s objectives and priorities,
the unit/team need to apply these functions under each step
Producers and Analysts
Both roles of producers and analysts are the roles of both
Producers and Analysts are very balancing and harmonizing (see
Figure 2). Without doubt, both roles are supporting each other
and there is a joined function. These joined functions including
a) Discuss and decide on the temporal and spatial
boundaries of the water accounting targeting region.
b) Discuss the key components of the regions.
c) Identifying the key data required and its sources.
d) Agreed on the reporting structure to represent the key
component of the targeting region.
e) Discuss the best methods to estimates water accounting
components and fluxes.
f) Discuss the results of WA and how to improve it.
Specific roles and functions are also setting for performance
by each group of producers and analysts. Producer’s functions are
setting along four key functions (collection, production, validation
and dissemination) (Table 3). While, Analysts’ functions are
setting along three key functions (coordination, analysis, insights)
(Table 4). These functions by producers and analysts need to be
supported by the institutional settings [12-14].
Water accounting mechanism has received great attentions
over the last decade by many donors and countries, where they
are working hand in hand to adopt and develop water accounting
system and capacity at the country level. This is in supporting
meeting the SDGs 2030 agenda and support the shift in water
management into integrated water management in sustainably
manner and allocated water to high productive sector but also
support the water resources planning and policy development and
inform water debates at the country and regional level. However,
the many trials that currently in places by several donors and
countries have proven the case of lacking understanding what
water accounting system is and what are its key components and
how can be designed and developed.
This paper, presented and described the main common
challenges that reported and faced by many countries in developing
and designing their water accounting system It presented the
WARS-Water Accounting Reporting System framework with
the attention to provide answering to these hindered questions
and supporting the current activities by many countries. WARS
provided a schematic structure of the water accounting system
and simple processes that can guiding the country to go around
the development of its tailored base water accounting system that
fit for their purposes and answer their key priority questions. The
paper also presented the proposed appropriate structure of the
water accounting team or unit that can implement and lead the
processes to design and develop water accounting that meet the
country’s priorities and answering the key questions raised from
the local and contextual challenges. Further research needs to
look at the implementation of WARS.