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Integrated coastal area and river basin management (ICARM)

Since the UNCED conference in Rio, it has become accepted that river basins and coastal sectors are intimately linked through their physical and ecological structure and related physical and biological processes. They contain important natural environments and are used intensively by mankind. Both systems support a variety of socio-economic functions: they provide space, produce resources and absorb unwanted products. Economic activities in downstream areas benefit from upland resources, such as water, aggregates and wood. On the other hand, coastal areas provide space for settlement, industrial activity and tourist developments that have a positive benefit for the wider river basin area.

Main spatial components of the ICARM domain

Evolution od ICARM

Aware of the fact that functional linkages between coastal and riverine areas are ever more apparent and intimate, UNEP entrusted PAP/RAC to extend its activity on integrated management of coastal zones to the adjacent watersheds in order to contribute to the development of a new management approach and of new management structures and instruments that can properly take into account those linkages. This new approach, called Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management (ICARM), provides the key to the integrated development of natural, economic and cultural environments within river basins and coastal areas. Its basic principles are:

  • respect the integrity of the river basin or coastal ecosystem and accept limits on the use of resources;

  • ensure the strategic importance of renewable resources for socio-economic development;

  • allow the multiple use of resources integrating complementary activities and regulating conflicting ones;

  • ensure multi-sectoral and multi-level integration in decision making linking broad scale management to local level intervention; and

  • allow for participation of all actors, and particularly local population, in the planning process to assure effective management.

Planning Process of ICARM

Integrated river basin and coastal zone management provides the opportunity to consider explicitly certain aspects of these systems that have previously been seen as outside the scope of planning interest. This integrated approach leads to better co-ordination of policy making and action across sectors (water, forestry, agriculture, urban development, environmental protection, etc.) and geographically, ultimately leading to a more rational use of resource and more effective environmental protection. Its expected outcome would be an optimisation of policy interventions in space and time to reduce potential conflicts, bridge potential gaps and streamline potential laps among policies.

Because of its complex nature, ICARM requires a high level of integration within and between institutional structures. A high level of horizontal co-operation is required particularly among sectoral institutions at the planning stage and a high level of vertical linkage is necessary within institutions at the implementation stage.

As in ICAM, a variety of tools and methods can be employed in ICARM at the stages of information, plan development and implementation. These include: databases, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Decision Support Systems, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), cost-benefit analysis, environment-development scenario, Carrying Capacity Analysis (CCA), economic instruments, capacity building and education, conflict resolution.

This new integrated approach is presented in detail in the document Conceptual Framework and Planning Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management published by PAP/RAC in 1999 and presented at a workshop organised in Toulon (France) in January 2000.

In 2000, in co-operation with UNEP, the principles of ICARM have already been applied in the Cetina River watershed in Croatia for which an environmental and socio-economic profile was prepared by a team of national and international experts.


PAP/RAC. 2000. River Cetina Watershed and the Adjacent Coastal Area: Environmental and Socio-Economic Profile. Split: PAP/RAC. pp viii + 176. ENG/CRO
(Download Cetinaicarm.pdf / 7358 kb)

The methodological approach applied during the analysis of the environmental and socio-economic profile of the Cetina River is based on the model of the integrated management of its basin and coastal area which constitute a unique spatial, functional and natural whole. This study was prepared within the PAP/UNEP project on ICARM in order to apply in practice the principles of the Conceptual Framework and Planning Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management to issues concerning the Cetina basin and its adjacent coastal area. Its objectives were to identify the major problems relating to the development of the Cetina basin and to establish and prioritise the means to their solution; to identify the basic conflicts in this area and define their resolutions; to propose an institutional framework that would meet the need for the establishment of a long-term basin management; and to provide support to the local administrative units in the preparation of the integrated river basin area management strategy and develop the respective planing and managerial instruments.

PAP/RAC. 2000. Report of the Workshop on Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management (Toulon, January 10 to 12, 2000). PAP-4/ICARM/2000/W.1. Split: PAP/RAC. pp 147. ENG/FRA

COCCOSSIS, H., BURT, T., and WEIDE, VAN DER, J. 1999. Conceptual Framework and Planning Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management/Cadre conceptuel et directives pour la gestion intégrée du littoral et des bassins fluviaux. Split: PAP/RAC. pp xii + 78. ENG/FRA

(Download ICARM Guidelines.pdf / 2338 kb)
(Download Directives pour GILIF.pdf / 2238 kb)

This document should be seen as a general tool while detailed descriptions of natural processes, human activities and their interactions can be found in specialised scientific literature. The document has two parts. The first part presents a conceptual framework for Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management, based on the hydrological, geochemical, ecological and socio-economic linkages between the river basins and coastal areas, while the second part presents practical procedures for achieving the ICARM goals. The Guidelines provide a conceptual framework for initiating plans and can be used also on a selective basis for specific aspects of integrated coastal area and river basin management.


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