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Embedding Environmental Flow Assessments in policies and practice

3 September 2019

Environmental Flow Assessments determine how much water is needed to ensure functioning ecosystems. But how to embed such assessments in policies and practices in different countries? During the annual World Water Week in Stockholm last August, IUCN NL facilitated a learning exchange on this topic. Partner organisations WWF Zambia and Benin Environmental Education Society (BEES) shared their insights.

The session was introduced by Catherine Brown, professor at Western Cape University, who stressed the need of Environmental Flows. Not only for nature, but for people: “Environmental Flows are not there to protect nature, they are there to protect people. We need them because we have tempered with the system. What we set aside for environmental flows, will reflect in the kind of ecosystems we get.”

“In an Environmental Flow Assessment, specialists determine what is required from a river system to preserve important habitats such as wetlands for birds, fish and other water dependent species,” Elke Praagman, Senior Expert Ecosystem Services at IUCN NL, explains. “These ecosystems form the foundation of our livelihoods and wellbeing.”

Tool for decision-making

“The challenge for both Zambia and Benin is to translate the technical aspects of an Environmental Flow Assessment into tools that can be used by decision-makers,” says Praagman, who organized the knowledge exchange.

Zambia: engaging with stakeholders

In Zambia, environmental flows have been adopted in legislation. To make the shift into practice, WWF Zambia engaged with stakeholders from academia and government from the onset of the assessment, to develop a tool that produced different scenarios for water allocation. The team working on the assessment consisted of international and local specialists, which enhanced the capacity of local experts and helped create ownership.

Benin: demonstrating the benefits

In Benin, where environmental flows are not yet part of legislation, BEES has initiated the first pilot for an environmental flow assessment. This effort comes at the right time, when the country is planning to revise its water legislation in the coming future. By demonstrating the benefits of allocating water for nature, this pilot aims at making Environmental Flow an integral part of water governance in Benin.

More information

For more information on the process in Benin, see:


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More articles by: Elke Praagman