More from UNDESA Vol 23, No. 11 - November 2019

Water and sanitation for all: letting data lead the way

By Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Chair of UN-Water

The sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

So, four years into the SDGs, how are we doing?

Not so well. According to UN-Water’s ‘SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018,’ water pollution is worsening, water resource governance is weak and fragmented, and agriculture places enormous and increasing stress on freshwater supplies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme confirms the bad news: 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water services and 4.2 billion – well over half the world’s population – still have no access to safely managed sanitation services, many of them living in rural areas and least developed countries (LDCs).

While the situation should be of deep concern to decision makers, it amounts to a full-blown crisis for those directly affected.

Clearly, we need sound data to find out where we are failing and to help countries make informed decisions that can steer policies and direct finance to where the needs are greatest.

Happily, things are brighter in this respect. UN-Water’s new SDG 6 Data Portal is the result of 18 months of development to integrate existing hydrological, environmental, social and economic information to show where progress is most needed.

But more must be done. Looking at the global picture, we see that country-monitoring systems need strengthening. These systems need more financial resources to hire staff skilled in data collection, analysis and communication.

Today, the average Member State is reporting only on five out of 11 of the SDG 6 indicators. The hope is that the SDG Data Portal will act as an incentive to collect more, standardized data. This information can then be used to measure progress, ensure accountability and generate political, public and private-sector support for further investments.

The Portal:

  • Tracks overall progress towards SDG 6 at global, regional and national levels;
  • Enables assessment and analysis of the state of water resources and linkages to other sectors;
  • Raises awareness of water and sanitation issues to help catalyze action; and
  • Encourages and improves SDG 6 monitoring and reporting at all levels.

I encourage you to start exploring the Portal: for example, you can find out how many people still lack safe drinking water and sanitation in your country. Are ecosystems in your region being protected and restored, or exploited and degraded? What is the level of water stress where you live?

Now and in the future, new information and communication technology gives us more and better data to improve our lives, and the SDG 6 Data Portal is UN-Water’s contribution to a more evidence-based approach to international development.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

Finding new support for graduating Least Developed Countries

“Many Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have implemented successful development policies,” said ECOSOC President Mona Juul as the Annual Ministerial Meeting of the Least Developed Countries took place in New York in September. “As a result, an increasing number of LDCs have graduated or are approaching graduation from the LDC category. While this is a cause for celebration, LDC graduation often raises anxiety [on possible implications of graduation], and thus enhancing graduation support should be essential to reduce such concerns,” she said.

Given the large number of LDCs expected to graduate in the next few years, UN DESA’s Economic Analysis and Policy Division (EAPD) has recently launched a project on “New support measures for graduating Belt and Road LDCs” to identify targeted assistance measures and strengthen policy frameworks and institutional arrangements in six pilot LDCs: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Timor-Leste.

“[We need to find] better ways for the UN system and international partners to support graduating countries and to recommend improved graduation procedures […]. Also, we should not forget how capacity development work can be undertaken in support of graduating and graduated countries,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said earlier this year when addressing the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP).

The new UN DESA project will strengthen analysis and support consultation processes between a range of actors as well as development and trading partners in each country. It will moreover attempt to contribute to the global discussion on support measures for graduating LDCs and to enhance their national capacity. Running until October 2022, the project is supported by the UN Peace and Development Fund, established with a generous contribution from the Government of China.

To further promote a smooth transition for graduating LDCs, the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) earlier this year developed a set of proposals that focused mainly on the process, emphasizing that the international community’s support to graduating LDCs should be more timely and better coordinated. The issue of financial support will also be discussed in detail at an upcoming Expert Group Meeting on financing for graduating countries led by the Office of the Secretary-General on 11-12 November 2019.

More information on the UN DESA project is available through the LDC portal here.

SDG 6 in numbers

Fresh water is a precious resource that is essential to human health, food and energy security, to poverty eradication and many other aspects of sustainable development.

Water-related ecosystems have always provided natural sites for human settlements, along with a wealth of ecosystem services. Yet, like other natural resources, water is under threat.

The demand for water has outpaced population growth, and half the world’s population is already experiencing severe water scarcity at least one month a year.

Most rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are more polluted now than they were in the 1990s. An estimated 50 to 70 per cent of the world’s natural wetland area has been lost over the last 100 years.

While substantial progress has been made in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people—mostly in rural areas—still lack these basic services. In response, donors increased their aid commitments to the water sector by 37 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

Most countries have recognized the importance of better coordinating the use of water resources and have put in place integrated plans for their management. However, much more effort is needed to improve access to water and sanitation services, increase wastewater treatment, enhance water use efficiency, expand operational cooperation across transboundary water basins, and protect and restore freshwater ecosystems.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 6 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

Where are the innovation leaders?

Global economic conditions continue to deteriorate, including where economic growth is needed the most – across most developing regions. Preliminary estimates by UN DESA reveal that the average GDP growth in developing economies could fall below 4 per cent in 2019, amid lingering fragilities in Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, and weaker economic conditions in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

A range of diverse factors are causing the prolonged slump that has been affecting developing regions since 2015. The knock-on effects from the collapse in commodity prices and the impact of policy uncertainties on investor and consumer confidence have recently been exacerbated by the escalation in global trade tensions.

But the growth slowdown in developing countries is also rooted in structural factors. Many countries are being held back by a weak innovation base and limited technological capabilities. Progress on innovation has differed markedly across regions, with East Asia performing better than other developing regions, while Africa and South Asia continue to lag behind.

In many cases, lagging countries suffer from a limited number of scientists and engineers, and a mismatch between skills developed through the education system and those required by local industry. Moreover, public and private investments in research and development tend to be low and the cooperation between the private sector, universities and research institutions remains limited amid weak institutional frameworks.

Sustainable economic growth and development cannot be achieved without innovation, which should become a policy priority. While this poses an immense challenge, transforming innovation from a barrier to an engine for development is essential to drive a sustained rise in living standards.

More in-depth analysis on this and other regional impediments to economic growth and development are available in the November Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects.

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