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UN University debuts online tool to help nations meet 2030 goal: Clean water, sanitation for all

March 22, 2019

The self-reported struggle of many countries to design effective plans to achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has inspired a new UN University online tool to guide such nations along a 6-step path towards the critical SDG 6: clean water and sanitation for all.

The SDG Policy Support System (SDG-PSS, was launched Friday March 22, World Water Day, in English (with French and Spanish versions soon to follow) on the website of UNU's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

It draws on extensive research into a universal recipe for accelerating SDG-6 progress.

It has been created by UNU-INWEH, the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD), the Korea Environment Corporation (K-eco), the Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea, and national institutions from Costa Rica, Ghana, Pakistan, and Tunisia -- five partner countries in the system's development in 2017-2018.

"Water problems constitute a crisis today in an increasing number of countries," says UNU-INWEH Director Vladimir Smakhtin. "Around 1.5 to 2 billion people currently live in areas of physical water scarcity, where water resources are insufficient to meet water demands, at least during part of the year. Around half a billion people experience water scarcity year-round. And there has been more than 50% drop in globally available freshwater per capita since 1960."

"Implementing SDG 6, the 'water goal,' brings immense development, economic and health benefits and can unlock long-term funding," he says. "All too often, however, faced with competing goals and limited budgets, water-related development falls behind other priorities, and yet water is arguably the development issue that touches the largest number of people."?

Says Dr. Jong-Soo Yoon, Head of UNOSD: "We hope that by sharing knowledge and training people in a proven system, more nations can effectively assess their situations and replace gaps and weaknesses with workable policies, frameworks and action plans. This will ultimately contribute to reducing water scarcity and pollution, mitigating disasters, and halt the ongoing degradation of water-dependent ecosystems."?

Free to use by anyone, and explained in an online training tutorial, the system and tools are built for water-focused professionals, practitioners, and policy makers interested in systematically producing reliable, comprehensive, policy-relevant evidence of the ever-shifting situation relative to the eight SDG 6 targets, and their 11 monitoring indicators.

The system helps to assemble existing national data and translate it into the evidence needed to assess and monitor progress against SDG6.

It also produces easily-referenced summaries to expose key gaps and strengths in the following six critical components of successful SDG implementation, which were identified through consultations with the project's partner countries. Three of the components relate to capabilities; three to sustainability:
  • Capacity. Countries must have the ability to obtain, strengthen and maintain the capability to set and achieve their own development objectives.

  • Policy and institutional strength. Horizontal and vertical policy coherence, and the ability of institutions to make evidence-based decisions and build, implement and enforce inter-related policies

  • Finance. Countries must define the costs and benefits of achieving each SDG 6 target, and align national finances with SDG targets

  • Gender mainstreaming. Country policies must address women's specific water-related needs and empower women to participate at all levels of water management, including in decision-making and policy implementation, in ways defined by them

  • Disaster risk reduction and resilience mainstreaming. Countries must have robust mechanisms to anticipate and reduce water-related disaster risk to protect communities; to assist communities to recover from water-related disasters; and to protect infrastructure and other water assets from hazard impacts

  • Governance integrity. Countries must end corruption and maintain integrity and transparent practices across water policies, institutions and governance frameworks for greater accountability and trust in decision-making
Says Manzoor Qadir, UNU-INWEH Assistant Director: "An effective, sustainable path to SDG 6 depends on the ability to assess strengths and weaknesses and track changes and progress for these components, and on the collaboration of all concerned government institutions, expert groups and civil society."

6-step path to SDG 6

    1. Inventory current national data and knowledge

    This is best done as a collaborative exercise including scientists, experts, policy-makers and decision-makers. Finding data may be the task of scientists and experts but selecting which data to adopt must cross the science-policy divide.

    2. Create a single, authoritative evidence base

    Data and knowledge must be translated into evidence that is useful and relevant for its varied users. It is critical to create only one national evidence base for SDG 6, and to include only evidence that is validated and agreed on by all stakeholders - experts, scientists, policy-makers and decision-makers. This authoritative evidence base will then become the foundation for national discourse and decision making.

    3. Use the evidence base to evaluate the current enabling environment for SDG 6, reporting gaps and strengths

    The evidence base can be used to evaluate the current enabling environment against each target of SDG 6.

    4. Make a plan, involve all stakeholders, to address weaknesses and build on strengths

    Once the enabling environment has been measured, it can be managed. Collaboration across multiple sectors and with multiple levels of government is vital. Collaboration means that all key stakeholders are involved in decision processes and are working to the same priorities under relevant national development plans. At this stage, international expertise and support can be useful to support the progress of the national plan. Support from lead UN agencies is available to both high- and low-income countries.

    5. Implement the plan across all water-related sectors, focusing on maintaining policy coherence and collaborative action

    Putting the plan into action may require new mechanisms, the development of news skills and capacity, and the design of new policy and decision-making processes. To deliver SDG 6 success by 2030, these processes must be widely agreed by all and made a government priority.

    6. Track progress in strengthening the six critical components and adjust plans as necessary over time.

    Collecting data, building evidence and analysing the six critical components is an ongoing process.

Says Lisa Guppy, former senior researcher at UNU-INWEH whose work was instrumental in the system's creation: "The evidence base should be a dynamic resource, with an agreed review process to keep it relevant and up to date. A dynamic evidence base will show change achieved and send clear national messaging around SDG 6 progress - to government stakeholders, donors and international stakeholders."

Says Ick-Hoon Choi, Vice-President of K-eco: "The Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea, and K-eco have participated over the past two years as a project partner and host institution respectively. As one of the five pilot countries facing various water-related situations, the process of building the national data inventory and the evidence base to evaluate the current enabling environment against each target of SDG 6 has been a remarkable step forward for national stakeholders -- increase their understanding of SDG 6 and establishing a reliable channel of partnerships. As a leading environmental organization striving to achieve Korea's sustainable development, K-eco will continue to support building a knowledge base and platform for SDG 6 implementation."
Related papers:


The UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health is a member of the United Nations University family of organizations. It is the UN Think Tank on Water created by the UNU Governing Council in 1996. Its mission is to help resolve pressing water challenges of concern to the UN, its Member States and their people, through knowledge- based synthesis of existing bodies of scientific discovery; cutting edge targeted research that identifies emerging policy issues; application of on-the-ground scalable solutions based on credible research; and relevant and targeted public outreach. UNU-INWEH is supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and hosted by McMaster University.

United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health

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