7 December 2017
Global Workshop Propels Integrated SDG 6 Monitoring
story highlights

A ‘Global Workshop for Integrated Monitoring of SDG 6’ provided a platform for countries and UN agencies to share experiences and review results from baseline collection efforts, as well as to exchange information on current country experiences on the integration of the SDG 6 monitoring framework into national monitoring and decision-making processes.

One of the key opportunities provided by the workshop was the exchange of information on emerging practices, as part of a process of continuous methodological improvement and capacity building on SDG 6 monitoring and implementation.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) that has many interlinkages with other SDGs and therefore, a key role in realizing the Agenda. UN-Water is a body that coordinates the efforts of UN entities and organizations working on water and sanitation issues – more than 30 UN agencies whose mandates and programmes include responsibilities on water and sanitation. Among others, UN-Water guides countries on monitoring and reporting on the targets and indicators under SDG 6. The UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 brings together the – UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment), UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) – all custodian agencies, each with a specific responsibility for one of the targets under SDG 6.

Over the longer term, the aim is to establish and manage a coherent monitoring framework for water and sanitation in support of decision making in the water and sanitation sector. This is being done by: developing methodologies and tools to monitor SDG 6 global indicators; raising awareness at national and global levels about SDG 6 monitoring; enhancing technical and institutional capacity for monitoring at country level; and collecting and compiling country data and reporting on global progress towards SDG 6.

The period 2015-2018 has been dedicated to the development of monitoring methodologies and a data baseline for all SDG 6 indicators. Towards this end, the ‘Global Workshop for Integrated Monitoring of SDG 6’ was held in the Netherlands, from 21-23 November 2017, to provide a platform for countries and UN agencies to share experiences and review results from baseline collection efforts, as well as to exchange information on current country experiences on the integration of the SDG 6 monitoring framework into national monitoring and decision-making processes. The workshop brought together nationally designated SDG 6 focal points from more than 75 countries, the 8 custodian agencies of the UN responsible for individual targets under Goal 6, and a range of non-governmental and academic organizations.

The agenda for the workshop consisted of exchanging experiences from baseline data collection at the country level, with a specific focus on: institutional structures and processes; analysis and use of data; integration across the various SDG 6 targets; and sustainability of monitoring efforts. It also focused on feedback on the global compilation of baseline data by UN custodian agencies and feedback and awareness raising on synthesized SDG 6 monitoring and alignment between country, regional and global reporting efforts. The meeting agenda also sought to foster communities of practice for SDG 6 monitoring, raise awareness for country engagement in global monitoring, and advise priorities for the next phase of UN Water’s Integrated Monitoring Initiative.

Workshop Outcomes

The workshop was opened by UN-Water’s new chair, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) President Gilbert Houngbo, who highlighted the importance of data in informing decision making. He raised one of the key issues of the workshop, i.e. the challenge of integrated monitoring across the various targets under SDG 6. Data on SDG 6 is collected across a variety of institutions, and the UN Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative was created to produce a unified framework across the various elements.

From the host government of the Netherlands, Directorate-General for Spatial Development and Water Affairs (DGRW) of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mr. Pieter Heij, highlighted the fact that two years into the SDGs, a new international water agenda has been clearly defined in terms of a vision for: (i) the formulation of effective measures and the measurement of impact; (ii) the global architecture, and (iii) increased cooperation. There is, however, a mismatch between the holistic vision of an integrated water goal on the one hand, and the (fragmented) international governance framework to serve this goal on the other hand. Furthermore, there is an ongoing challenge to ensure that the initiative is inclusive and to ensure that it is politically viable.

In the spring and summer of 2018; the UN will produce the SDG Progress Report 2018; UN-Water envisages the publication of a synthesis report on SDG 6 (based on baseline data); and the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will provide an in-depth review of SDG 6. In this context, the HLPF can only do its job if it has the right data. As a result, national action is needed by Member States to secure the information necessary to plan sustainable development. With this information collected by different institutions with different mandates, the challenge is bringing together the required information and formulating messages to the HLPF on how to improve monitoring.

Joakim Harlin, UN-Water Vice-Chair, highlighted several key differences with the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) period. First, while the MDGs were UN initiated and led, the SDGs are country-initiated and will be country-led. Secondly, there is a difference in scope: while the MDGs had eight goals and 21 targets, the SDGs have 17 goals and 169 targets. Thirdly, while the MDGs focused on achievements in less developed countries, the SDGs will focus on achievements in all countries. And lastly, in the field of water, ambition has increased tremendously from two targets and three indicators during the MDGs to eight targets and 11 indicators during the SDG period.

Although having a dedicated water goal is an important achievement, the integrated nature of the SDGs is of crucial importance. The majority of SDG 6 targets support implementation of other SDG targets and vice versa. Think, for example, of the role of water in: addressing poverty (SDG 1.1-1.7); food production that reduces malnutrition (SDG 2.2) and in sustainable food production systems (SDG 2.4); reducing waterborne diseases to fight neonatal mortality (SDG 3.2) and combating waterborne diseases ( SDG 3.3); supporting education targets (SDG 4.1-4.5); addressing gender inequality (SDG 5.1, 5.2, 5.4, 5.5); establishing a productive workforce (SDG 8.5, 8.8); and, in particular, reducing the number of deaths, the number of people affected, and economic losses caused by disasters, including water-related disasters (SDG 11.5).

The SDG 6 targets stretch across the three ‘e’s of sustainable development: the economy, (social) equity, and the environment. To these, in Harlin’s opinion, one could add two p’s, i.e. peace and partnership. Harlin emphasized the national ownership of SDG 6: the goal and its targets are aspirational, each country should determine its own national targets, and disaggregate and contextualize the indicators as it sees fit. On this point, Sven Kaumanns from the German Federal Statistical Office highlighted a tension between disaggregation and availability of contextualized data on the one hand, and the production of harmonized, internationally comparable standards on the other hand. The purpose of the global indicators is to broadly track development, communicate needs and ensure accountability. For this, harmonized definitions and processes are required. It is a point of debate, whether we need high levels of disaggregation at the international level and whether this is not predominantly a national concern.

Feedback on Global Baseline Data

One of the key opportunities provided by the workshop was the exchange of information on emerging practices, as part of a process of continuous methodological improvement and capacity building on SDG 6 monitoring and implementation. William Reidhead, Global Monitoring Officer for UN-Water, pointed out that the workshop offered opportunities to generate a critical mass of baseline data for each indicator under SDG 6, as well as to initiate a process of capacity building at the country level for integrated monitoring. In support of this, UN-Water offers guidelines and tools on monitoring methodologies, online support, a helpdesk and tutorials, regional exchange through regional and global workshops, and country support through process facilitation and technical experts.

UN Water reports that the process of designating a national focal point for SDG 6 to liaise with UN custodian agencies has taken some time. Similarly, the clarification of responsibilities and coordination mechanisms at the national level is a time-consuming task. In terms of content, the same is true of the absorption and integration of SDG goals and targets into national strategies and plans. It is recognized that both capacity and resources are needed to achieve this integration.

In the case of indicators 6.1 and 6.2 (safely managed drinking water and sanitation services), the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP)[1] has been in place since 1990, and was able to build on a history of global monitoring, including throughout the Millennium Development Goal period. As a result, in the 2016 data drive, the JMP produced baseline estimates for 232 countries, areas and territories and regions. The change in the definition of the indicators has meant a significant upward correction (of the order of 3x) of the number of people lacking access to services, but this is more a reflection of stricter definitions of accessibility and availability during the SDG period compared with the MDG period than reflective of any real change on the ground. Data availability is good for access to basic services and ending open defecation, but there are still challenges in, for instance, defining open defecation free (ODF) areas, in distinguishing between the existence of services infrastructure and the functionality of that infrastructure, in increasing the availability of data on handwashing practices (needed to measure levels of hygiene), and in collecting data on water quality in rural areas or on fecal sludge management.

Target 6.3 on wastewater and water quality is a ‘new’ target, the data based on a smaller number of countries (84) than in the case of 6.1 and 6.2. The data currently available are still preliminary estimates. Nevertheless, responses from national focal points have been strong. A recurrent issue with wastewater is that existing statistics are strongly based on domestic wastewater treatment, and therefore, wastewater from mining, agriculture and industry as well as on-site treatment is not sufficiently captured in statistics. For wastewater treatment that is considered, functionality of the treatment facilities is a key issue, but here again, it must be recognized that such treatment and discharge into sewers represents a small fraction of total wastewater. For water scarce countries, wastewater re-use can be very important, and this is an emerging area for data gathering.


On water quality[2], 46 countries submitted data. However, many countries do not yet have quality monitoring programmes capable of producing sufficient data to report fully on this indicator. The indicator itself is based on a set of eight core parameters[3] for which countries must set their own target values. However, outcomes are therefore also highly sensitive to the choice of target values.

Target 6.4 on water use and scarcity is also a ‘new’ target, combining two indicators, i.e. the change in water use efficiency over time and water stress, or freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources. The FAO, custodian agency for this target, reports problems with data availability on this target, as well as weakness of data collection infrastructure. Furthermore, the existing data on water stress has a very high standard deviation relative to the mean, i.e. the wide range of different water resource endowments and usages between countries generates an average score that is not very meaningful. This is typically an indicator that is highly contextual.

Target 6.5.1 builds on a 2012 survey on integrated water resources management (IWRM) implementation that embraced the enabling environment, institutional processes, management instruments and sustainable financing. In 2017, the UNEP team received 116 survey responses: in some regions, there is a pre-existing regional water resources management indicator framework and reporting system for which alignment with the global framework is a topic of discussion. This applies, for instance, to the EU Water Framework Directive and the Africa Water Vision 2025, which is monitored with support from the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW). The sister target, 6.5.2, measures transboundary cooperation, and its methodology was probed in five countries by UNECE and UNESCO prior to further rollout, for which 102 responses from country surveys were received.

Target 6.6.1 is on the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems. This embraces ecosystem dynamics in mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes that play a special role in storing freshwater, maintaining water quality, and conserving ecosystems. The indicator measures changes in the extent of these ecosystems over time. It is ‘new’ in the sense that it is specifically water related, but builds on other international frameworks such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. UNEP received data from 35 countries so far and has highlighted challenges due to the comprehensiveness of the indicator, requiring data from multiple sources, as well as referring to a wide variety of reference conditions that are difficult to compare with one another. Nevertheless, data on this indicator can profit from the growth in global geospatial data, and there is now recognized value in a regional and sub-regional approach to analyzing water related ecosystems.

SDG 6 includes two targets (6a and 6b) on procedural elements, or respectively international cooperation and capacity building (focusing on official development assistance (ODA) spending in the sector) and stakeholder participation (on the strengthening of participation of local communities in water and sanitation management). In the 2016/2017 Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), data was collected from more than 80 countries. For 6a, one challenge is to include capacity building as an element of the indicator on international cooperation, while for 6b, measurement of ‘effective participation’ in the context of SDG 6 is a complex issue that the WHO is studying in depth to improve the indicator over time.

Feedback on Country Processes

The SDG 6 targets and indicators were rolled out in six pilot countries volunteering to embark on a proof of the monitoring concept. These were Bangladesh, Jordan, the Netherlands, Peru, Senegal and Uganda. These countries tested the technical feasibility of the methodologies as well as the related institutional and procedural aspects to generate a country road map to establish a baseline by 2017-2018. Based on this, the process was expanded to a group of 30 countries that reported on experiences by November 2017.

On institutional structure and processes, many countries reported on the importance of high-level political support at country level as well as high level support by key decision makers in different government agencies to help institutionalize SDG 6 within existing policies, adapt it to national needs, and align it with national and local processes and structures. This is needed for data gathering and monitoring, but also to institutionalize SDG 6 planning (linking the monitoring process to the policy process).

Many countries reported that monitoring requires a clear institutional set up with well-defined roles and responsibilities. In many cases, apart from having a national focal point for SDG 6, individual coordinators and alternates were appointed per indicator, usually chairing a dedicated task team. The lead agency bringing different line ministries and departments together could be the Central Statistical Service, the Ministry of Water Affairs, or a central agency such as the Planning Ministry.

On financing and sustainability, it was found that holding a range of consultations and collecting and collating the data for SDG 6 involves costs and can add to existing tasks. Mobilizing financial resources for this task can be a challenge, and for example, it needs to be integrated within the existing budgetary process. Once finances have been obtained, efficient use and prioritization is important.

On raising awareness on SDG 6, many countries reported on the need for more activity in this regard. Water is highly intersectoral and significant communication efforts are required to raise the level of priority of water in many ministries, as well as among other stakeholders for whom the expanded goals in the water sector are relatively new.

Regarding the analysis and use of data, many countries have existing structures and processes for data gathering, and a mapping needs to take place to link this data to the requirements of the SDG process. Ensuring data sharing between ministries can be a challenge, and the same applies to obtaining the data in the required format. Capacity building is needed to help actors understand what data is needed and in what form.

Finally, for several indicators, especially for the ‘new’ targets, little data was available, although the SDG 6 process stimulated initial data collection/collation in this area. There are still clear data gaps in some areas, as well as outstanding questions on the interpretation of indicators and their methodologies.


[1] JMP is a collaboration between UNICEF and WHO.

[2] This target also feeds into indicator 6.6 on water related ecosystems.

[3] These are dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity, nitrogen, phosphorus, and pH for surface water and electrical conductivity, pH and nitrate concentration for groundwater.

UN-Water and the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management facilitated this meeting, which was held at Circus theatre Scheveningen, The Hague, the Netherlands, from 21-23 November 2017. For more information, contact Tobias Schmitz [tobias.schmitz@giweh.ch].

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