22 March 2023
SDG 6 Data for All
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IMI-SDG6 provides the evidence base for the UN 2023 Water Conference and the upcoming in-depth review of SDG 6 at the HLPF through its regular progress updates, including the 2021 Summary Progress Update on SDG 6 and the SDG 6 Data Portal.

In celebration of World Water Day and the UN 2023 Water Conference, IMI-SDG6 has launched a set of snapshots to draw attention to successful country action in delivering SDG 6, to demonstrate that progress is possible for inspiration and learning.

As part of the Water Action Agenda, IMI-SDG6 is making a voluntary commitment to work with all UN Member States to ensure that by 2030, data on all SDG 6 global indicators are available for all countries.

By UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 Steering Committee

In 2018, UN-Water concluded that the world is far from reaching SDG 6 on water and sanitation, which may jeopardize the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In 2021, UN-Water reported that the world – on average – must quadruple current rates of progress to have a chance to achieve SDG 6 by 2030. Now in 2023, UN-Water is sharing examples of successful country action in delivering SDG 6, to demonstrate that progress is possible and provide inspiration and learning.

This is possible thanks to an increasingly robust set of country data on the SDG 6 global indicators, compiled by the responsible UN agencies, joining forces under the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 (IMI-SDG6). IMI-SDG6 supports countries in monitoring water- and sanitation-related issues and in compiling country data to report on global progress towards SDG 6. The overarching goal is to accelerate the achievement of SDG 6, by increasing the availability of high-quality data for evidence-based policymaking, regulations, planning, and investments at all levels.

Providing the evidence base for SDG 6 progress

As the world’s water and sanitation leaders are now heading towards New York to attend the UN 2023 Water Conference, the gaps they need to address are clear.

We know that 2 billion people worldwide still live without safe drinking water, 3.6 billion without safe sanitation, and 2.3 billion people without basic handwashing facilities. Most wastewater is returned to nature untreated, while 3 billion people are at risk due to lack of information about the health of the lakes, rivers, and groundwater they depend on. One in five of the world’s river basins are experiencing rapid changes, such as flooding or drought with increased frequency and intensity, and 80% of wetland ecosystems are already lost. Nearly 10% of the world’s population lives in areas with high water stress. Only about half of the world’s countries have tools in place for sustainable and equitable management of water resources, and only a third have a high level of community participation. Only 24 countries have all transboundary waters covered by operational arrangements for water cooperation, while official development aid for water and sanitation has dropped by 15% over the last years. On top of all this, climate change is increasing water cycle variability and related extremes in all regions of the world, wreaking havoc and displacing millions of people.

Thanks to the recently published UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) 2022 report, we also know the difference between countries that are on track to reach their water targets, and those that are not. Countries on track are much more likely to have sufficient human and financial resources, effective regulatory authorities, and a high level of utilization of domestic capital commitments, and to be able to recover operation and maintenance costs from tariffs.

Data on all SDG 6 global indicators can be found on the SDG 6 Data Portal, sorted by country and region. Throughout the preparatory process leading up to the UN 2023 Water Conference, IMI-SDG6 has been providing data-driven messages to ensure evidence-based steps forward. In parallel, we have also encouraged our country counterparts – monitoring experts in national ministries and institutions – to engage in the process and to support their national policy and decision makers in carrying out accurate progress reviews and formulating effective commitments to the Water Action Agenda.

Progress is possible!

While the data clearly outline the immense needs across the globe, they can also help identify countries that are demonstrating good progress towards SDG 6. In preparation for the UN 2023 Water Conference, IMI-SDG6 decided that it was an opportune time to share some concrete examples of successful country action, to show that large-scale progress is possible.

Sixteen acceleration snapshots were launched last week, highlighting progress in more than 20 countries towards the different SDG 6 targets, intended to be a source of inspiration and learning for politicians and decision makers in charge of achieving SDG 6. The countries selected were identified based on internationally comparable trend data on the SDG 6 global indicators and supporting indicators. The snapshots illustrate measurable and verifiable progress at national, regional, or river basin scale, and highlight key success factors identified through consultation with national stakeholders.

While the data tell us that progress has happened, they do not tell us why. By looking across the snapshots, it is possible to identify several common success factors, ranging from political support to evidence-based planning and resource allocation, to piggybacking on investments in other sectors. And in each case, several factors coincided to create an enabling environment, further shaped by decisions by various actors at different levels and across sectors. Understanding drivers of success is essential, to be able to scale and replicate it elsewhere.

These snapshots are just the first step. UN-Water is diving deeper through a set of “country acceleration case studies,” where progress is carefully analyzed to understand why and how it was achieved. Case studies from three countries will be launched in July at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), to help inform its in-depth review of SDG 6. We call on our international and regional partners, as well as countries, to identify and share success recipes that could help accelerate the achievement of SDG 6.

Commitment to address remaining SDG 6 data gaps

With these snapshots we would also like to highlight the critical role of data and evidence in accelerating progress towards SDG 6. While the SDG 6 global indicators are designed to capture broad trends, they also show us where to look more closely and enable us to identify successes, as well as gaps and specific challenges. Additional data on complementary national indicators are essential to inform planning and management of water resources at the local level. In all cases, for data to be useful, they need to be credible and timely. While identifying the snapshots, IMI-SDG6 encountered challenges such as too few data points, data points based on too few measurements, and data points in need of further validation. The need to strengthen country capacity on monitoring and reporting remains a priority for IMI-SDG6.

Therefore, as a contribution to the Water Action Agenda, IMI-SDG6 commits to work with all UN Member States to ensure that by 2030, data on all SDG 6 global indicators are available for all countries. This is an ambitious commitment, yet we believe it is realistic if we work closely together with our global, regional, and national partners. There is a need for renewed commitment across stakeholders to strengthening systems for national, regional, and global monitoring of progress on water and sanitation.

The most immediate step in this direction for IMI-SDG6 is our third round of global data collection, the so-called 2023 Data Drive, which we are currently preparing for. Starting in April, IMI-SDG6 will be contacting its country focal points with requests for data, while offering associated capacity-building support. This exercise will help close existing data gaps and advance knowledge of the current state of and progress towards SDG 6.

SDG indicator framework for follow-up on Water Action Agenda

Finally, as we approach the 2023 UN Water Conference, we encourage stakeholders to express their voluntary commitments in terms of the SDG 6 global indicators, which will help ensure that the planned actions will move the national numbers in the right direction. The follow-up and review of UN Member States’ commitments related to the Water Action Agenda should thus further reinforce and build on the progress made to date in national, regional, and global monitoring and reporting on SDG 6.

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This article was written by authors from UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 Steering Committee:

  • Joakim Harlin, Chief Freshwater Unit, Chief Manager of the UNEP-DHI Partnership Centre, UN Environment Programme (UNEP);
  • Graham Alabaster, Chief of Sanitation and Waste Management, UN-Habitat;

  • Tom Slaymaker, Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist (WASH), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF);

  • Jippe Hoogeveen, Chief Technical Advisor Land and Water Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO);

  • Sonja Koeppel, Secretary of the Water Convention and Co-Secretary of the Protocol on Water and Health, UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE);

  • Abou Amani, Director Division of Water Sciences and Secretary Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);

  • Bruce Gordon, Coordinator of WASH, World Health Organization (WHO); and

  • Tommaso Abrate, Scientific Officer, World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

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