UNEP Provides Global Baseline on Ambient Water Quality
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Reporting is hampered by a lack of data on freshwater quality in many countries, and by the use of different methodologies and standards.

The monitoring task is complex because water bodies vary, and it is not practical to set universal parameters of water quality.

The authors find that mapping trends in water quality data could provide a picture of whether water bodies are “improving,” “stable” or “degrading” over time.

26 August 2018: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) launched a global status report on ambient water quality, on behalf of UN-Water, during World Water Week 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden. The report is based on 52 submissions, and finds that more than half of the water bodies assessed – including rivers, lakes and groundwater aquifers – are of good quality.

SDG target 6.3 aims to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials. Its associated indicator 6.3.2 refers to the proportion of water bodies with good ambient water quality.

The status report’s authors note that ministries are often underfunded for water quality monitoring. Reporting is hampered by the lack of data on freshwater quality in many countries, and by the use of different methodologies and standards. The monitoring task is complex because water bodies vary, and it is not considered practical to set universal parameters of water quality. However, differences in targets will produce assessments that are more or less favorable, depending on whether the targets are lenient or strict.

LDCs do not have the capacity for long-range monitoring of ambient water quality, the report finds.

The authors find that mapping of trends in water quality data could provide a picture of whether water bodies are “improving,” “stable” or “degrading” over time, but acknowledge that many countries, especially least developed countries (LDCs) do not have the capacity for such long-range monitoring. They suggest that data could be supplemented by earth observations and citizen science. They also propose that reporting be based on river basins as the unit of analysis, so as to help identify subnational and transboundary patterns.

The global baseline report was one of seven monitoring reports launched by UN-Water at World Water Week, including a companion report on the global baseline for wastewater treatment, which is also part of SDG target 6.3. [Publication: Progress on Ambient Water Quality – Piloting the Monitoring Methodology and Initial Findings for SDG Indicator 6.3.2] [UN-Water report webpage] [UN-Water press release] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on Global Status Report on Industrial Wastewater] [All coverage of World Water Week 2018, including series of monitoring reports]


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