4 April 2019
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Water and Linkages to Data, Businesses and Countries
UN Photo/Victoria Hazou
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Ahead of World Water Day, marked on 22 March, the UN published its annual report on the state and role of water in sustainable development.

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s Day, “leaving no one behind,” this brief reviews recent reports and articles relating to securing clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) for all, including the Goal’s linkages to other international frameworks, the business world, and the data revolution.

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s World Water Day, “leaving no one behind,” this SDG Knowledge Weekly reviews recent reports and articles related to securing clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) for all, including the Goal’s linkages to other international frameworks, the business world, and the data revolution.

Groups that experience discrimination are often left behind when it comes to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Ahead of World Water Day, which was marked on 22 March, the UN published its annual report on the state and role of water in sustainable development. Titled, ‘World Water Development Report 2019,’ the report seeks to demonstrate how “improvements in water resources management and access to water supply and sanitation services are essential to addressing various social and economic inequities, such that no one is left behind.” It notes that three out of ten people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, and six out of ten do not have access to safely managed sanitation services. The report identifies specific groups that are often left behind, emphasizing that women and girls, ethnic and other minorities, and people of certain ancestries tend to experience discrimination when it comes to safe drinking water and sanitation. A summary write-up is available on the SDG Knowledge Hub, along with a guest article authored by UN-Water members. A video on IPS News summarizes the importance of water to human development.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Google Earth, and the European Commission launched a data platform related to SDG target 6.6, which calls for protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes, by 2020. The SDG 6.6.1 Data Platform supports measurement of this target by its first indicator (6.6.1): “change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time.” The tool provides access to satellite data and enables comparative analysis over time, in order to better understand changes to water bodies. This initiative responds to a data gap identified in 2017 during UNEP’s first data collection process on SDG 6, which found that only 20% of UN Member States had even the basic information required to monitor progress. A news story on the tool is available on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

Also contributing to monitoring SDG 6, the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) launched an online tool to help countries design plans for achieving the Goal through a self-guided, six-step process: 1) making an inventory of existing national data and knowledge; 2) creating a single, authoritative evidence base that is the agreed reference source; 3) using the evidence base to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in the institutional environment for each of the targets under SDG 6; 4) planning action in collaboration with stakeholders; 5) implementing the plan; and 6) tracking progress. Additional resources on SDG 6 monitoring efforts are available at http://www.sdg6monitoring.org/, and an overview of the data compilation process on the indicators to measure SDG 6 is available here.

On 27 March 2019, a high-level event on interlinkages between water and climate action was organized at UN Headquarters in New York by the Permanent Missions of Tajikistan, Japan, Canada, Morocco, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Singapore and Switzerland, and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), with the support of UN-Water. In addition to highlighting linkages between climate and water, speakers noted links between water and development and the need to address water access issues, particularly for those who are discriminated against. The discussion addressed the need to adopt an integrated approach to water resource management, as described in a detailed summary on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

On the business side, a report by CDP examines the corporate use of water and how water withdrawals have changed in recent years. The paper titled, ‘Treading Water: Global Water Report 2019,’ highlights the impact that private companies have on progress towards SDG 6, noting that 70% of global water withdrawals are from agricultural supply chains, with 19% being directly from industry. The report further finds, through analysis of 296 companies that have consistently reported to CDP over the past four years, that 75% now report water risk exposure. In addition, the number of companies setting targets to reduce water withdrawals has doubled in the past four years. Despite these trends, “there has also been an almost 50% rise in the number of corporates reporting higher water withdrawals,” contributing to CDP’s conclusion that “the world is not on track to meet our global water goal.”

Several recent articles and op-eds on GreenBiz highlight opportunities for improved management and resource efficiency in the private sector:

  • Yalin Li, Colorado School of Mines, describes how wastewater is an asset, and looks at the scientific process of recovering resources contained therein, such as nutrients, energy and precious metals. She highlights that the average American uses over 60 gallons of water per day, and that water and wastewater facilities account for more than a third of municipal energy budgets.
  • Josh Prigge, Sustridge, calls on businesses to calculate the true cost of water, which he argues will enable them to better understand the return on investment (ROI) of water efficiency and reuse projects. Prigge points readers to three interactive calculators and provides an example of how a winery has applied them to prioritize investments and understand the impacts of water sourcing/quality.
  • John Sabo, Arizona State University, interviews Jon Radtke, who manages Coca-Cola’s water stewardship program. Radtke flags that reputational risk can impact the bottom line, but goes further in describing how to overcome internal obstacles such as those noted above on ROI, as well as the importance of measuring environmental services benefits and collaborating across sectors.
  • Elsa Wenzel, GreenBiz Group, references CDP’s water use report in an article that presents three “eye-opening water maps for business:” the Water Footprint Network’s assessment tool; WWF’s Water Risk Filter; and WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas. Wenzel outlines each tool’s “superpowers” and practical applications.

At national level, authors from the University of Saskatchewan share evidence of Canada’s “emerging water crisis” in an article on The Conversation that warns of rising costs due to rapid changes in water availability and quality. The authors propose four government-led solutions: 1) the creation of a “Canada Water Security Centre that measures, researches, predicts, stores and disseminates comprehensive information about surface water, groundwater, snow and glacier flows, storage and quality;” 2) creation of a National Water Commission that strengthens transboundary water management; 3) strengthening reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; and 4) improving collaborative river basin planning by building durable partnerships for water management and decision-making with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments.

Regionally, a blog by staff from the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) examines water politics in Africa. The piece points to ECDPM’s recent work on transboundary water management in the region, and emphasizes that understanding local and national politics around water is key to correcting expectations and approaches, and cites case studies in Mali, Guinea, Niger and Senegal. The blog concludes that “competing interests around water cooperation mean that governance is rarely a simple matter of applying the right principles and methods, but rather a complex interplay of political, developmental, and environmental interests within and between countries.”

A post on the World Economic Forum (WEF) blog examines the “hidden opportunity” for water in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. Noting the region’s heavy dependence on desalination and that 70% of its gross domestic product (GDP) is exposed to high or very high water stress (compared to a global average of 22% of GDP), author Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, describes a potential solution in the recycling and reuse of greywater. He emphasizes that water scarcity has contributed to numerous conflicts in the region, and calls on businesses to support innovation in water technology and collaborate with like-minded organizations to make innovative solutions scalable and financially viable.

Similar to Al-Zu’bi, Teresa Welsh highlights in an article on Devex that “equal access to water is a key component to maintaining societal stability and preventing conflict in fragile states.” Welsh points to a report launched in March by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs titled, ‘From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future.’ The report examines challenges created by water scarcity and the impact on food security, articulating the benefits of aligning clean water development with that of agriculture. Noting that 2.4 billion people currently live in water-scarce regions, the report emphasizes the importance of careful management strategies, technological innovations, investments, and policies around water.

The report also outlines strategies to ensure that water solutions reach smallholder farmers, and features four detailed recommendations for action by the US government, related to: 1) strengthening the environment for cooperation and communication between water development and food and nutrition security; 2) easing the challenges that hinder greater private-sector investment to expand sustainable water development for food and nutrition security; 3) leveraging US expertise and influence to improve water resource governance and sustainability; and 4) strengthening support for agricultural research and development (R&D) and interdisciplinary research at the nexus of water, food, and nutrition.

Also on the nexus of food and water, the Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture (WASAG) convened its first International Forum from 19-22 March 2019, in Praia, Cabo Verde. The event focused on water and migration, drought preparedness, financing mechanisms for sustainable management of water resources, water and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, water use, and saline agriculture, particularly in West Africa and the small island developing States (SIDS). WASAG is a partnership hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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