FAO Report Presents Global Baseline Data for Monitoring Water-use Efficiency
UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
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The report presents the first assessment of global and regional trends on water-use efficiency, based on nationally and internationally available data sets for 168 countries.

The analysis draws on the FAO AQUASTAT database on water use for the three major economic sectors of agriculture, industry and services, complemented by data from national databases and international sources.

Highlighting overall observations and recommendations, the report notes the close link between indicator 6.4.1 and the second indicator under target 6.4, which focuses on water stress.

26 August 2018: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has presented the first assessment of global and regional trends on water-use efficiency, based on nationally and internationally available data sets for 168 countries. The report titled, ‘Progress on Water-use Efficiency 2018: Global Baseline for SDG Indicator 6.4.1,’ is one of a package of seven indicator reports launched at the 2018 World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, as part of the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6.

SDG target 6.4 aims to “substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.” Reporting on the first of two indicators under this target, the FAO document describes the methodological approach used to test indicator 6.4.1 in five pilot countries: Jordan, the Netherlands, Peru, Senegal and Uganda. It presents global baseline data for the indicator for the 2015-2018 period.

The SDG 6.4.1 baseline report notes that average water-use efficiency currently stands at around US$15/m3 worldwide, though there are significant differences among countries and regions. Central and Southern Asia account for the lowest water-use efficiencies, averaging US$2/m3, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, with around US$7/m3. Regions with the highest water-use efficiency are Oceania, at US$50/m3, and Europe and North America, at US$38/m3. Overall, the report notes that 75 countries were found to have efficiencies of less than US$1/m3, while 20 countries scored above US$80/m3.

Decision makers can combine the information from SDGs 6.4.1. and 6.4.2 to identify a tipping point for decoupling water use from economic growth.

The analysis draws on the FAO AQUASTAT database on water use for the three major economic sectors of agriculture, industry and services, complemented by data from national databases and international sources such as the World Bank, UN Statistics Division (UNSD) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Among some of the methodological and process challenges faced, the report highlights the lack of data demonstrating increases in value added per unit of water withdrawn, especially in the poorest regions. It further notes key knowledge gaps on: how best to reduce water withdrawal for agriculture; how to scale up technologies that reduce the use of water for all sectors; and how to monitor and ensure the quality and quantity of water supplies.

Highlighting overall observations and recommendations, the report notes the close link between indicator 6.4.1 and the second indicator under target 6.4, which focuses on water stress. The role of 6.4.1 as an “economic indicator” is described as to assess to what extent a country’s economic growth is dependent on the use of water resources, while 6.4.2 serves as an “environmental indicator” that tracks the physical availability of freshwater resources. The report notes that decision makers can combine the information from these indicators to understand how increasing water use affects the availability of water resources and to “define a tipping-point target to aim at for decoupling water use from economic growth.”

Among some lessons learned from the process to develop baseline data, the report highlights the importance of involving a varied number of stakeholders and institutions at the national level, with the lead institution playing a key role in coordinating these stakeholders, “each of whom should have a clear understanding of their role in the process, the actions they should implement and the support available.” The report further calls on UN custodian agencies for each indicator to focus their efforts on building strong relationships with the lead agencies.

The report was published as part of the Integrated Monitoring of Water and Sanitation-Related SDG Targets (GEMI) initiative, which falls under the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6. GEMI was established in 2014 to harmonize and expand existing monitoring efforts focused on water, wastewater and ecosystem resources (SDG targets 6.3 to 6.6). [Publication: Progress on Water-Use Efficiency 2018: Global baseline for SDG indicator 6.4.1] [UN-Water press release on launch of SDG 6 indicator reports] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on launch of SDG 6.4.2 baseline report] [All coverage of World Water Week 2018]


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