World Water Week 2018 Reveals Insufficient Progress on SDG 6, Calls for Nature-based Solutions
UN Photo/Victoria Hazou
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World Water Week opened with calls for nature-based solutions, such as “green infrastructure” in cities, to protect and restore water resources.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, in her opening address, highlighted ways to spread the risk from water-related disasters in a more equitable manner, and urged all concerned to be involved in actions for addressing the world’s water crisis.

World Water Week celebrated innovations in the field of water treatment.

31 August 2018: The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) organized World Water Week 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden, under the theme, ‘Water, Ecosystems and Human Development.’ UN-Water released a suite of seven monitoring reports showing progress on several SDG indicators, but also an increased level of water stress in 26 countries. Among other activities, participants celebrated the winners of the Stockholm Water Prize and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize.

World Water Week attracted a record number of 3,700 participants. It opened with calls for nature-based solutions, such as “green infrastructure” in cities, to protect and restore water resources. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, in her opening address, highlighted ways to spread the risk from water-related disasters in a more equitable manner, and urged all concerned to be involved in actions for addressing the world’s water crisis.

Torgny Homgren, SIWI Executive Director, declared that water scarcity has become “the new normal” in many parts of the world. Other speakers referred to examples where water scarcity has contributed to poverty, conflict, and the spread of waterborne diseases, as well as hindering access to education for women and girls.

The UNFCCC, in a press release, noted the pressures exerted by climate change on food security and health around the world, adding that water scarcity also calls into question the future of water-intensive energy production.

The UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 launched a set of global baseline reports during World Water Week, bringing together work undertaken through the World Health Organization (WHO)/UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP), Integrated Monitoring of Water and Sanitation-Related SDG Targets (GEMI), and the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS).

On the proportion of wastewater that is safely treated (SDG indicator 6.3.1), the WHO and UN Habitat report that, based on data from 79 countries, only 59% of domestic wastewater is collected and safely treated, while insufficient information is available to estimate the level of industrial wastewater treatment.

Water scarcity has become “the new normal” in many parts of the world, said SIWI Executive Director, Torgny Homgren.

On ambient water quality (SDG indicator 6.3.2), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) finds that, based on 52 submissions, more than half the water bodies assessed are of good quality. However, the authors propose mapping of trends in water quality to indicate whether water bodies are improving, stable or degrading, noting that it is not practical to set universal parameters of water quality.

Regarding progress on water-use efficiency (SDG indicator 6.4.1), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) notes that average water-use efficiency currently stands at around US$15/m3 worldwide, though there are significant differences among countries and regions.

On the level of water stress (SDG indicator 6.4.2), FAO reports that water stress increased between 1996 and 2016 for most countries in the world, and has more than doubled in 26 countries, 15 of which are in Africa.

On the degree of integrated water resource management (IWRM) implementation (SDG indicator 6.5.1), UN Environment reports that 80% of countries have laid the foundations to establish IWRM, but that 60% of countries are unlikely to achieve the target of implementing IWRM at all levels by 2030 (SDG target 6.5). Hence, the report notes, multi-level coordination and collective, multi-stakeholder measures will be critical.

On the proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational agreement for water cooperation (SDG indicator 6.5.2), the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) find insufficient progress, and propose undertaking joint projects that alleviate poverty and conflict, in tandem with water-related objectives.

On water-related ecosystems (SDG indicator 6.6.1), a report published by UN Environment on behalf of UN-Water notes that, while severe water scarcity affects more than 200 river basins annually, with direct impacts on 2.67 billion people, progress on monitoring and reporting indicator 6.6.1 is slow. The report calls for “significantly upscaling” in situ monitoring of water quality and quantity.

World Water Week celebrated innovations in the field of water treatment. Stockholm Water Prize laureates Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht were recognized for their work in biotechnology-based processes to treat drinking water and waste water, while minimizing the energy footprint of water treatment. A ceremony highlighted the contribution of the two scientists to better understanding how microorganisms can transform organic pollutants in water. Kartik Chandran, World Water Prize Committee, noted in a blog post the potential of environmental biotechnology not only for improving drinking water and recycling or purifying wastewater, but also in interacting with complex biological systems to enable the achievement of goals in energy, food, and human health.

Also honored during World Water Week were the winners of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, Caleb Liow Jia Le and Johnny Xiao Hong Yu from Singapore. The two teenagers have developed a way to produce reduced grapheme oxide, which can purify water, using locally available durian rind and sugarcane fiber.

World Water Week 2018 took place from 26-31 August. [World Water Week Website]


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