Sustainable Management of Headwater Resources: The Nairobi 'Headwater' Declaration (2002) and Beyond

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Courtesy of IOS Press

Promoting integrated, self-sustainable management strategies for the management of the zero-to-first- order catchments, which provide the marginal areas of every river basin, is the goal of the 'Headwater Control' movement. Headwaters provide the source of fresh water resources and changes in their characteristics may affect the water resources in all areas downstream. Because of the fractal nature of all river systems, headwaters may occupy around 50% of the land surface. Since 1989, the study of headwaters has been advanced by the 'Headwater Control Movement', later International Association for Headwater Control. After 15 years and five major international conferences, the movement has grown from a European to a global initiative, whose proceedings demonstrate a change in the approach to sustainable watershed management from 'control' to 'accommodation' and ultimately 'self-control' within the limits of the natural environment. The human dimension of headwater management remains its major challenge, especially the reform of the management institutions and the empowerment of local communities for environmental management.

This report examines the characteristics of the 'Headwater Control' philosophy in relation to three sister movements: the FAO's 'Land and Livelihood' agenda, ecohydrology, and the 'Better Land Husbandry' ideology sponsored by the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation. In September 2002, in response to the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Headwater Control Movement issued its own manifesto, the 'Nairobi Headwater Declaration for the International Years of Mountains and Freshwaters' which was endorsed by five United Nations agencies and published by the United Nations University in Tokyo. Subsequently, the movement has worked towards the implementation of the recommendations of the Declaration, promoting trans-national working groups on sustainable watershed management across the Balkan States and Northern Turkey, sponsoring a NATO-Advanced Research Workshop to tackle the problem of evaluating the environmental roles of wetlands in larger headwater catchments, and initiating contributions towards embedding watershed consciousness within programmes of Education for Sustainable Development.

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