In Need of Speed: Data can Accelerate Progress Towards Water and Sanitation for All

Article by Joakim Harlin et al: Even before COVID-19, the world was off-track to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – ensuring water and sanitation for all by 2030.

The latest data, which is provided in seven SDG indicators reports published today by the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 (IMI-SDG6), show us that 2 billion people worldwide still live without safely managed drinking water and 3.6 billion without safely managed sanitation. In addition, 2.3 billion people lack a basic handwashing facility with soap and water at home. Most wastewater is returned to nature untreated. One in five of the world’s river basins are experiencing rapid changes, such as flooding or drought with increased frequency and intensity, and 80% of wetland ecosystems are already lost….

We can only sustainably manage what we measure, and right now, there are too many gaps in the data, despite unprecedented, heroic levels of reporting during the chaos of the pandemic.

Last year, the IMI-SDG6 combined the efforts of WHO, UNICEF, UN-Habitat, UNEP, FAO, UNECE and UNESCO (as custodian agencies of the various SDG 6 global indicators) to reach out to countries with requests for data: this was our ‘2020 Data Drive.’

COVID-19 caused extreme difficulties for the SDG 6 national focal points in every country, with people forced to work from home with little equipment, few in-person consultations, and many data collection activities cancelled. Under the circumstances, the focal points made a remarkable effort. On average, UN Member States now have data on 8.2 out of 12 indicators (up from 7.0 in 2019), and the number reporting on nine or more indicators increased from 37 in 2019 to 92.

Despite this significant progress, large data gaps remain for some indicators, typically those that rely on in situ monitoring networks, such as water quality and aquifers. For example, many countries base their ambient water quality reporting on relatively few measurements; the poorest 20 countries reported on only 1,000 water bodies in total, whereas the richest 24 reported on nearly 60,000. Addressing these issues is a long-term, capital-intensive effort.

Our country monitoring focal points know better than anyone about the benefits and costs of robust water and sanitation monitoring systems, and the urgent need to establish them. We encourage high-level officials in national ministries to listen to what the focal points have to say. And, as we continue our capacity-building activities in countries, we also call on development partners to support this work. We call on academia, the private sector, and civil society to contribute to the joint effort by bringing their water and sanitation datasets to the table. …(More)”