Catchment Management: concepts and principles

Land and water degradation, together with their impacts on water resources and subsequent impacts on users and other resources, cannot easily be separated or managed independently of one another, Figure 3‑1. This implies that a co-ordinated and integrated planning approach, and consequent action, is required. This applies for all scales of catchment management and through all levels of institutions from individual land users, through Traditional Structures to District and National Ministries.

The left side in Figure 3‑1 illustrates the good state of both land and water resources, whereas the right hand side illustrates the situation with these resources in a poor state. Land and water resources should be managed for sustainability and utilised in an integrated manner, in order to keep the catchment as close to the ‘left-hand’ condition as possible.


Figure 3 1: Illustration of good and poor state of both land and water resources in a catchment (Source: Waterwatch Queensland)

In its widest possible sense, Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) recognises the need to integrate all environmental, economic and social issues within a catchment (at all scales) into an overall management philosophy, process, strategy and plan.  Thus ICM is aimed at deriving the best possible outcome of sustainable benefits for local communities and future generations, whilst protecting the natural resources upon which communities rely. Integrated Catchment Management is equivalent to the World Bank concept of a ‘Landscape Approach’[1], with ICM favoured in Malawi in order to strengthen the sense of management within a catchment framework.

Often, water resource management approaches assume that sustainability of water resources can be achieved merely through focused efforts to control water use and protect the integrity of water resources within a catchment context. However, it is now acknowledged that this approach ignores the complex issues of land use patterns and the varied roles played by stakeholders, which impact on the water use and water resource. A more integrated and coordinated approach across all aspects of natural resources management and land use is thus needed, hence Integrated Catchment Management.

In order to achieve ICM and derive the best outcome of benefits, while protecting resources, requires careful consideration and planning. A catchment management plan also requires both the physical implementation of activities in day-to-day practices and livelihoods, as well as a strong legislative, regulatory and institutional framework to support the planning process and implementation.


[1] Moving toward a sustainable landscape approach to development. 2014, by Treguer, David; Pehu, Eija. Agriculture and environmental services note ; no. 12. Washington, DC ; World Bank Group. Accessed at: