Natural Infrastructure for Water

Natural Infrastructure for Water

In 2018, the UN designated World Water Day's theme was Nature for Water, while Stockholm World Water Week focused on Water, ecosystems and human development. WLE researchers have a wealth of knowledge and information to share on the role of natural infrastructure in water resource management. Through its lead organization, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), WLE is interested in the links between natural capital and its contribution to livelihoods, development and sustainable growth.  

The Role of Natural Infrastructure in Water Resource Development

Typically, the role of nature goes largely unrecognized but is often critical to the livelihoods of people and, also very importantly, the performance of built water resource infrastructure (e.g. dams and levees). Water resource systems should be conceptualized as complementary combinations of natural and built infrastructure, working in tandem.

Quotes from the team

  • Matthew McCartney (IWMI)Co-lead of Variability, Risk, and Competing Uses

    There is much greater awareness of the critical importance of natural infrastructure for both livelihoods and economic growth than there was 20 to 30 years ago.

    Claudia Ringler (IFPRI)Co-lead of Variability, Risk, and Competing Uses

    Sustainable water management needs to account for the ways humans benefit from the environment while also incorporating the impact of human actions on the natural system.

    Priyanie Amerasinghe (IWMI)Senior Researcher, Human and Environmental Health

    Capacity building will be critical to ensuring the effectiveness of nature-based solutions in countries, and will be the starting point to addressing some of the most pressing current issues.

    Lisa-Maria Rebelo (IWMI)Senior Researcher, Remote Sensing & GIS

    The annual flood pulse in the Ayerwaddy Delta supports unique floating rice varieties, creating a biodiversity hotspot for fish and other aquatic species. We are working to understand the impacts of built infrastructure and climate change on the flood pulse, and to identify potential areas for expansion of flood based rice systems.

Misrepresenting the value of Natural Infrastructure

Some of the research highlights the dangers of not taking into account natural infrastructure or, in some cases, overvaluing the services they can provide.

Guidelines for Integrating Natural Infrastructure

Through our research, we have developed some guidelines and recommendations for how natural infrastructure can be valued and incorporated to improve livelihoods, development projects, and human well being generally.


Natural infrastructure related events for 2018.

More quotes from the team

  • Chris Dickens (IWMI)Principal Researcher, River Health

    We are working to determine the environmental flows for the Inner Niger Delta in Mali, home to 1.5 million people and 7 million livestock all of whom are reliant on the natural infrastructure of the Delta.

    Marloes Mul (IWMI)Senior Researcher, Hydrology and Water Resources

    Water security is a critical for economic development as well as climate change adaptation, and a combination of natural and man-made infrastructure is the best way to ensure a reliable water supply for all stakeholders.

    Luna Bharati (IWMI)Principal Researcher, Hydrology and Water Resources

    The Karnali Basin of far West Nepal is home to many endemic and rare species of wildlife, but also the site of proposed hydropower and irrigation development; we are working to determine the quantity and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater ecosystems and the human livelihoods that depend on them.

Natural Infrastructure in Action

Highlights of some of the work that is being done by our researchers and partners.