Photo: Unsplash/Simon Greenwood
20 Jun 2022 Technical Highlight Water

Why UNEP-DHI Centre is an increasingly key UNEP freshwater partner

The world is not on track to meet any of its water-related Sustainable Development Goals. To turn this situation around, countries need more finance to accelerate action on freshwater ecosystems, but also more comprehensive data, forecasting and modelling to guide action and make it effective.

The UNEP-DHI Centre, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a long-term partner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) providing direct support to the implementation of UNEP’s freshwater work, and the water-related elements within UNEP’s Medium-term Strategy, 2022-2025. More specifically, it provides cutting-edge technical expertise to help promote the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water, as well as other water-related goals.

Making best use of rapidly improving technology and data crunching methods – for instance, for using the latest satellite Earth observations and applying machine learning algorithms to measure the extent of wetlands globally – is becoming increasingly critical for accurate assessment of, and reporting on, progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. UNEP-DHI has proven experience in this area.

We asked Gareth Lloyd, the centre’s Deputy Chief Manager, about how UNEP-DHI came into being, what it contributes to UNEP’s work on freshwater ecosystems, and why its work is critical for UNEP.

UNEP: What does DHI stand for?

Gareth Lloyd (GL): DHI stands for Danish Hydraulic Institute, founded in 1964 by the Technical University of Denmark as The Institute of Water Production. After merging with The Institute for Water Quality in 2000 and the Danish Toxicology Centre in 2005, the organization simplified its name to DHI. The UNEP-DHI Centre is hosted by DHI, an independent, not-for-profit, international advisory and research organization. UNEP-DHI was formed as a partnership centre between UNEP and DHI in 1996.

UNEP: What kind of support does UNEP-DHI provide to UNEP?

GL: The UNEP-DHI Centre works to support UNEP across the areas of water, climate and environmental action. It has been an important partner for UNEP in its role of supporting UN Member States with collecting and analyzing data on Sustainable Development Goal 6, and specifically indicators 6.5.1 (degree of implementation of integrated water resources management) and 6.6.1 (change in freshwater ecosystems).

UNEP: How does UNEP benefit from collaboration with UNEP-DHI?

GL: DHI has more than 60 years of experience in water resources management and is represented in all regions of the world with over 1,000 staff in more than 25 countries. It has work experience from more than 140 countries. The UNEP-DHI Centre enables UNEP to draw on a large pool of world class technical expertise in water and environment issues – from policy development and implementation to on-the-ground project implementation, water resources management and planning. It provides the expertise for successful UNEP project implementation across the globe.

UNEP: What specialist skills does UNEP-DHI offer?

GL: The UNEP-DHI Centre’s experts typically specialize in water resources modelling and decision support system design and implementation, Earth observation data retrieval and applications, climate change impact and resilience assessments and climate adaptation and nature-based solution interventions. The centre also has access to experienced project managers and local consultants in many countries through the DHI network.

UNEP: How does the collaboration with UNEP work? 

GL: The UNEP-DHI Centre operates by drawing on DHI’s technical expertise in water and project implementation. Transforming data into actionable information and decision support tools is at the core of UNEP-DHI’s work. Activities are typically carried out in collaboration with a broad network of complementary partners from a range of organizations.

UNEP: Who does UNEP-DHI collaborate with?

GL: UNEP-DHI Centre has established a wide network of partners and collaborators over the years. These include reputable international organizations, UN agencies, national authorities, universities and technology providers.

UNEP: What projects is UNEP-DHI engaged in?

GL: Most recently, the UNEP-DHI Centre has assisted UNEP’s engagement in a number of projects in the Horn of Africa, including an assessment of nature-based solutions’ potential for climate hazard mitigation in Somalia, and the transboundary SECCCI project, supporting sustainable management of the Omo-Turkana and the Dawa-Jubba-Shabelle river basins.

For more than two decades, the centre has also provided technical and capacity inputs furthering the global implementation of integrated water resources management – including the development of river basin decision support systems, knowledge products and capacity-building activities.

Recently the UNEP-DHI Centre also began supporting UNEP in its collaboration as part of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, providing key modelling and land-use inputs to a platform that provides groundbreaking insights into the problem of plastic litter in freshwater ecosystems.

For more information, please contact Joakim Harlin: