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Source: Small Island Developing States

The SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 concluded that the world is far from reaching SDG 6 on water and sanitation, which may jeopardize the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Billions of people still lack access to safe water and sanitation, resulting in needless deaths, chronic disease, missed education and reduced productivity. And the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically underlines the importance of water for hygiene.

When Member States adopted the SDGs in 2015, they committed to regularly report data to the UN to track progress and ensure accountability. Credible and timely data are essential to the realization of the SDGs, as they help decision-makers to identify countries, people and sectors that are left behind, and set priorities for increased efforts and investments. The latest round of data compilation for SDG 6 – ‘water and sanitation for all’ – is the 2020 Data Drive.

Broadening the global baseline for SDG 6 – ‘water and sanitation for all’

Through the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 (IMI-SDG6), the United Nations (UN) seeks to support countries in monitoring water- and sanitation-related issues within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in compiling country data to report on global progress towards SDG 6: ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. IMI-SDG6 brings together the United Nations organizations that are formally mandated to compile country data on the SDG 6 global indicators, the so-called custodian agencies.

Since the adoption of the SDGs, there has been at least one round of global data compilation for each of the 11 indicators under SDG 6. For six of the indicators, there are sufficient country data to produce global baselines, but for five of them we don’t yet have enough. In fact, the average country in the world is reporting on only about half of the indicators. This represents an important knowledge gap. What we don’t measure we cannot manage.

On this subject, the message from our country focal points is loud and clear: the data gaps result from too little technical capacity and too few human and financial resources. Examples include lack of monitoring infrastructure, lack of data management systems, low staff numbers and low expertise. It is essential to further increase national-level capacity for SDG 6 monitoring.

Launching the 2020 Data Drive

To close this data gap and to advance trend analysis of existing data, in March 2020, IMI-SDG6 launched the second round of global data compilation on the following seven SDG 6 indicators[1]:

  • 6.3.1 “Proportion of domestic and industrial wastewater flow safely treated”
  • 6.3.2 “Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality”
  • 6.4.1 “Change in water use efficiency over time”
  • 6.4.2 “Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources”
  • 6.5.1 “Degree of integrated water resources management implementation”
  • 6.5.2 “Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation”
  • 6.6.1 “Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time”

The custodian agencies for these indicators are contacting the relevant country focal points with requests for data. This is the 2020 Data Drive.

Custodian agencies play an active role in supporting UN Members States with monitoring and reporting SDG indicator data. For SDG 6, eight UN agencies are working together to ensure that coordinated support reaches national water institutions. Countries are provided with fit-for-purpose indicator methodologies which have been developed, tested, refined and approved by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators. The global data drive for each indicator is further supported by custodian agencies through tailored technical and institutional strengthening activities comprised of helpdesks, training materials and country workshops; the agencies also quality assure the indicator data and contribute to global analysis and reporting. All final data to be submitted for global reporting will first be validated and approved by the country.

Many stakeholders at the country level

Within a country, data on water and sanitation are collected by a wide variety of stakeholders. For example, the Ministry of Environment may look after data on ambient water quality, whereas water use may be under the Ministry of Agriculture. Basin authorities may be involved in the monitoring of integrated water resources management and transboundary cooperation. And the national statistical office has overall responsibility for SDG reporting.

Within each country, for each SDG indicator there is a specific ‘technical focal point’ (sometimes more than one) who is the main point of contact for the custodian agencies. These technical focal points are the main actors in the 2020 Data Drive, as they will receive the request for data from the custodian agencies. Often, the technical focal points are working with colleagues within and outside their organization to compile the data and report them to the custodian agencies.

Given the many stakeholders, it is recommended that countries also identify an ‘overall focal point’ who can work with technical focal points and promote coordination and collaboration across the indicators. Currently, 130 countries have nominated an overall focal point for SDG 6 monitoring.

Value of coordination and collaboration

The large number of stakeholders is both a challenge and an opportunity. A key objective of the monitoring effort is to collate all the information from across sectors and make data available to all stakeholders. By doing so, countries can increase data availability at minimum cost. This could also include tapping into data from non-governmental sources, e.g. from research institutions, business associations or civil society.

Bringing together stakeholders serves to reduce institutional fragmentation, and bringing together their datasets enables a comprehensive and consistent assessment of the state of water resources, which is necessary to be able to manage the resource in an integrated manner and to achieve SDG 6 as a whole.

The first step to coordination and collaboration across these stakeholders is clarity on who are the different focal points within a country. To this end, IMI-SDG6 has created a focal point directory, to make information available to each country on the focal points for SDG 6 monitoring in that country.

Coordination of monitoring at the global level

There are also many stakeholders involved in SDG 6 monitoring and reporting at the global level. The 11 global indicators for SDG 6 are looked after by 10 different custodian agencies, and their work builds on partnerships and ongoing efforts such as the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP), Global Environment Monitoring System for Water (GEMS/Water), FAO’s Global Information System on Water and Agriculture (AQUASTAT), Status Reporting on Integrated Water Resources Management, reporting commitments under the Water Convention and the Wetlands Convention, the Freshwater Ecosystems Explorer geospatial platform and the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS).

IMI-SDG6 was established in 2014, to bring together these stakeholders and coordinate the work on SDG 6 monitoring. The joint effort enables synergies across the custodian agencies as well as a harmonization of methodologies and requests for data, leading to more efficient outreach and a reduced reporting burden on countries.

The specific timeline and process for compiling country data, and the country counterpart, varies across the indicators. Through the 2020 Data Drive, the custodian agencies are jointly communicating with countries about the different timelines and processes, to ensure clarity and enable coordination at the country level.

Informing follow-up and review

The validated country data, along with regional and global estimates, will be incorporated into the annual SDG progress reports, to inform follow-up and review at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Detailed progress reports at the indicator level will be published in 2021 to inform a number of important events in the coming years, including a high-level meeting of the President of the General Assembly in 2021, and the United Nations Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the International Decade for Action in 2023. The data are also published in indicator-specific databases as well as the SDG 6 Data Portal.

It is clear that the global COVID-19 pandemic will pose a challenge for countries to collect and analyse data this year. But if there is one thing that we have learned from this crisis, it is the inestimable value of a strong evidence base to inform and support decision-making and to ensure that vulnerable populations are not left behind.

[1] Four indicators (6.1.1 “Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services”, 6.2.1 “Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a handwashing facility with soap and water”, 6.a.1 “Amount of water- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of a government-coordinated spending plan” and 6.b.1 “Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management”) carried out their data collection in 2019. Data collection for indicators 6.4.1 and 6.4.2 is carried out every year since 2018.

This article was written by Joakim Harlin, Chief Freshwater Unit, Chief Manager of the UNEP-DHI Partnership Centre, UNEP; Graham Alabaster, Chief of Sanitation and Waste Management, UN-Habitat; Tom Slaymaker, Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist (WASH), UNICEF; Marlos De Souza, Secretary of the Water Platform, FAO; Sonja Koeppel, Secretary of the Water Convention and Co-Secretary of the Protocol on Water and Health, UNECE; Youssef Filali Meknassi, Director, Division of Water Sciences, Secretary of the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), UNESCO; Bruce Gordon, Coordinator of WASH, WHO; and Tommaso Abrate, Scientific Officer, WMO.  

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