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The Thesaurus was accompanied by a unique website at the time of its publication in 2006. This site is no longer available but PDFs of the three language thesauri are available here for reference as well as extensive links.

TitleInterWATER Thesaurus
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2006
Place PublishedThe Hague

In 1987 IRC published the first edition of the InterWATER thesaurus, a standardised vocabulary for water and sanitation concepts that may be phrased in a variety of ways in sector literature, used for the indexing, storage and retrieval of sector information. It is available in English, French, and Spanish. It is also translated into Arabic by CEHA, the WHO Regional Centre in Jordan.



The InterWATER thesaurus is a standardised vocabulary for water and sanitation concepts that may be phrased in a variety of ways in sector literature. Each term appears in alphabetical order and full details are given of other terms related to it.

The InterWATER thesaurus makes clear what a term is meant to cover. It also helps to improve the quality of retrieval.

1. Preferred terms
Preferred terms (also called descriptors) form the major part of vocabulary control. The InterWATER thesaurus indicates which water supply and sanitation terms indexers are allowed to use. Preferred terms restrict the vocabulary so that it is easier to predict what words might have been used to index a concept.

2. Non-preferred terms
The InterWATER thesaurus also indicates some terms that indexers are not to use. These terms are called non-preferred terms. The InterWATER thesaurus allows you to look up a non-preferred term and see what preferred term should be used instead. This helps to direct you to the right term. For example: "salt removal" is a non-preferred term. The preferred term appears to be "desalination". It is also possible to go the other way around: look up a preferred term and see its non-preferred terms. This can give you a better idea of what the term is supposed to mean.

In the InterWATER thesaurus it looks like this:

Salt removal

use Desalination


uf Salt removal

uf Desalinization

( uf = used for)

3. Hierarchical relations
Hierarchical relations show the relations of a preferred term. For example: the broader term for "water related diseases" is "diseases". One of the narrower terms is "fluorosis".

4. Associative relations
Associative relations show the relations between different preferred terms. This can make the meaning of a term clearer. For example: one of the related terms for "water related diseases" is "water quality".

In the InterWATER thesaurus it looks like this:

Water related diseases

uf waterbased diseases

BT diseases (BT = broader term)

NT fluorosis (NT = narrower term)

rt water quality (rt = related term)

5. How to apply terms
The InterWATER thesaurus also guides people in using the thesaurus by including so-called scope notes. A scope note defines, explains or limits the meaning of a preferred term. This is an important aspect of vocabulary control: terms need to be used consistently with the same meaning.

Custom 1

The InterWATER thesaurus is an improved and trilingual integrated version of an earlier thesaurus: the Intermediate Thesaurus on Community Water Supply and Sanitation for Developing Countries.

Working with partners

The original thesaurus was published in English by IRC and the Water Research Centre (WRc) in the United Kingdom, as a contribution to the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. Representatives from organisations based in the United Kingdom, France, Peru, Jordan, Burkina Faso and Thailand made up a working group to advise on the development of the InterWATER thesaurus.

Full Text

Thesaurus comes from the Latin word thesauros, meaning treasure.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary (seventh edition) gives two explanations for the term thesaurus: storehouse of information, especially dictionary or encyclopaedia; and secondly, list of concepts or words arranged according to sense (meaning), or chosen for use in indexing.

The InterWATER thesaurus guides you in what terms to use while searching or indexing information on water supply and sanitation. It is available in three languages: English, French and Spanish.

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