UNU-INWEH Report Highlights Importance of Groundwater in SDGs
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According to the report, groundwater represents 97% of the world’s available freshwater resources.

While some SDG targets rely on the availability of groundwater, other targets may conflict with maintaining groundwater.

The authors call for thinking “beyond the 2030 horizon” in promoting attention to groundwater, with a view to revising global targets and indicators in a post-2030 framework.

January 2019: The UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) has analyzed connections between actions to achieve the SDGs and their potential impacts on groundwater. While the SDGs do not explicitly mention groundwater, the UNU-INWEH analysis finds many mutually reinforcing links between groundwater availability and action on the SDGs.

The report titled, ‘Groundwater and Sustainable Development Goals: Analysis of Interlinkages,’ finds that 53 of the SDG’s 169 targets have a link with groundwater. The authors emphasize the importance of groundwater as representing 97% of the world’s available freshwater resources. They note that some SDG targets rely on the availability of groundwater, such as SDG target 2.4 on sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices. Good groundwater management is needed to achieve SDG target 6.6 to protect and restore water-related ecosystems, and SDG target 15.1 on the conservation of freshwater ecosystems and their services.

SDGs 6, 12 and 13 have the closest links with groundwater.

There are also SDG targets that may conflict with maintaining groundwater, depending on how policies are designed and implemented. Examples of targets that could potentially have negative impacts on groundwater include SDG target 1.4 on achieving equitable access to natural resources, SDG target 6.1 on ensuring drinking water supply for all, and SDG target 7.1 on energy for all. Similarly, SDG target 2.3, which seeks to double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers, could directly affect the use of groundwater in many parts of the world.

The authors note there are “secondary interlinkages” with SDG targets such as target 3.1 (reduce the global maternal mortality rate), because providing clean water for birthing services could also draw on available groundwater as a resource for municipal services.

In total, 126 SDG targets were analyzed for the report, and 42% of these (53 targets) were found to have implications for groundwater. The authors identify SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 13 (climate action) as having the closest links with groundwater. They note that SDGs without direct links to groundwater still have implications for groundwater; for example, access to groundwater has implications for peace (SDG 16) and groundwater discharge to coastal areas has implications for marine water quality (SDG 14).

Despite its relevance to many SDG targets, the authors conclude that it is unlikely that groundwater will be added to the SDG global indicator framework, which is already complex. Nevertheless, they stress the importance of increasing the visibility of groundwater in follow-up and review processes. They also call for thinking “beyond the 2030 horizon” in promoting attention to groundwater, with a view to revising global targets and indicators in a post-2030 framework. [Publication: Groundwater and Sustainable Development Goals: Analysis of Interlinkages] [Report Webpage]

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