Measuring Water Resources – FAO Definitions

Renewable and non-renewable water resources

In computing water resources on a country basis, a distinction is to be made between renewable and non-renewable water resources.

  • Renewable water resources are computed on the basis of the water cycle.  They represent the long-term average annual flow of rivers (surface water) and groundwater.

  • Non-renewable water resources are groundwater bodies (deep aquifers) that have a negligible rate of recharge on the human time-scale and thus can be considered non-renewable.

Natural and actual renewable water resources

Natural renewable water resources are the total amount of a country’s water resources (internal and external resources), both surface water and groundwater, which is generated through the hydrological cycle. The amount is computed on a yearly basis.

Actual renewable water resources are defined as the sum of internal renewable resources (IRWR) and external renewable resources (ERWR), taking into consideration the quantity of flow reserved to upstream and downstream countries through formal or informal agreements or treaties and possible reduction of external flow due to upstream water abstraction. Unlike natural renewable water resources, actual renewable water resources vary with time and consumption patterns and, therefore, must be associated to a specific year.

Source: FAO