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UN University Launches Online Tool to Assist Countries in Meeting the 2030 Goal—Clean Water, Sanitation for All

The self-reported tussle of many nations to formulate effective plans to realize the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has motivated the creation of a new UN University online tool to guide such countries along a six-step path en route to the critical SDG 6: clean water and sanitation for everyone.

(Image credit: United Nations University, Institute of Water, Environment, and Health)

The SDG Policy Support System was introduced March 22nd, World Water Day, in English (with Spanish and French versions coming up soon) on the website of UNU’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). It builds on widespread research into a common recipe for hastening SDG-6 progress.

It has been developed 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 Pakistan, Ghana, Costa Rica, and Tunisia—five partner countries in the development of the system in 2017-2018.

Water problems constitute a crisis today in an increasing number of countries. 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. 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.

Vladimir Smakhtin, Director, UNU-INWEH.

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.

Dr. Jong-Soo Yoon, Head, UNOSD.

It is free for anyone to use, and explained in an online training tutorial, the system and tools are designed for practitioners, water-focused professionals, and policymakers concerned about systematically generating comprehensive, reliable, policy-relevant evidence of the ever-shifting situation in relation to the eight SDG 6 targets, and their 11 monitoring indicators.

The system helps to collate current national data and translate it into the proof needed to evaluate and track progress against SDG6.

It also creates easily-referenced summaries to uncover core gaps and strengths in the following six critical components of effective SDG implementation, which were identified via consultations with the project’s partner nations. Three of the components have to do with capabilities; three to sustainability:

  • Capacity. Countries must have the ability to attain, reinforce, and maintain the capability to set and accomplish their own development objectives.
  • Policy and institutional strength. Vertical and horizontal policy coherence, and the ability of institutions to form proof-based decisions and construct, implement, and put into effect inter-related policies.
  • Finance. Countries must describe the costs and advantages of attaining each SDG 6 target, and line up the national finances with SDG targets.
  • Gender mainstreaming. Country policies must consider women’s particular water-related requirements and empower women to partake in all levels of water management, including in decision-making and policy implementation, in ways put forth by them
  • Disaster risk reduction and resilience mainstreaming. Nations must have strong mechanisms to expect and diminish water-related disaster risk to safeguard communities; to help communities to recover from water-connected disasters and; to protect infrastructure and other water assets from threat impacts
  • Governance integrity. Countries must cease corruption and maintain reliability and transparent practices across water policies, governance, and institutions frameworks for better accountability and belief in decision-making

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.

Manzoor Qadir, Assistant Director, UNU-INWEH.

Six-Step Path to SDG 6

1. Inventory current national data and knowledge

This is best carried out as a cooperative exercise including scientists, policy-makers, experts, and decision-makers. Locating data may be the job of experts and scientists but choosing which data to adopt must cross the science-policy gap.

2. Develop a single, authoritative evidence base

Data and knowledge must be deciphered into evidence that is beneficial and applicable to its varied users. It is important to form only one national evidence base for SDG 6, and to add only evidence that is confirmed and agreed on by all stakeholders—researchers, experts, decision-makers, and policy-makers. This authoritative evidence base will then turn into the base for national discourse and decision making.

3. Use the evidence base to assess the existing enabling environment for SDG 6, reporting shortfalls and strengths

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

4. Create a plan, involve all stakeholders, to look into weaknesses and develop strengths

After the enabling environment has been measured, it can be handled. Partnership across numerous sectors and with many levels of government is essential. Partnership means that all main stakeholders are a part of the decision processes and are dealing with the same priorities under applicable national development plans. At this juncture, global expertise and support can be valuable to support the advancement of the national plan. Backing from lead UN agencies is available to both high- and low-income nations.

5. Implement the plan through all water-associated sectors, concentrating on preserving policy coherence and collaborative action

Launching the plan into action may necessitate new mechanisms, the creation of news abilities and capacity, and the design of new policy and decision-making processes. To realize SDG 6 success by 2030, these processes must be extensively approved by all and made an administration priority.

6. Track development in strengthening the six critical parts and modify plans as required over time.

Gathering data, building evidence, and examining the six critical components is a continuous process.

Says Lisa Guppy, a 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.”

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.

Ick-Hoon Choi, Vice-President, K-eco.

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