The core of sustainable development
Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene are fundamental to human health and well-being. Aside from domestic purposes, water is needed for food, energy and industrial production – uses that are highly interconnected and potentially conflicting. These uses generate wastewater, which may cause pollution if not properly managed. Water is also needed to ensure healthy ecosystems, which in turn can improve the quantity and quality of freshwater, as well as overall resilience to human-induced and environmentally induced changes. The effects of climate change are often seen in changes in water availability, such as increasing water scarcity in some regions and flooding in others. Consequently, water is a key factor in managing risks related to famine, disease epidemics, migration, inequalities within and between countries, political instability and natural disasters.
Cross-cutting and fragmented
Water can be instrumental in the implementation of integrated solutions across different sectors. However, water resources are commonly developed and managed by different government departments and within different sectors, resulting in little coordination between them and a lack of overview on the state of the resource. Inherent to this sectoral approach is the problem of coherence, where policies and decision-making in one sector may contradict or duplicate those in another. Furthermore, water resources are naturally confined to water basins so from a physical and ecological perspective, it would be most appropriate to manage these resources at this scale. However, water resources are often managed according to administrative units, which commonly cut across water basins, resulting in further fragmentation, especially in the case of transboundary water basins.
Towards a sustainable water future
To ensure sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, it is essential to look at the water cycle in its entirety, including all uses and users. Countries need to move away from the sectoral development and management of water resources, in favour of a more integrated approach that can balance different needs fairly. This is exactly what SDG 6 seeks to do – by expanding the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) focus on drinking water and basic sanitation to include water, wastewater and ecosystem resources, and together with target SDG 11.5 on water-related disasters, all the main aspects related to freshwater in the context of sustainable development are covered. Bringing these aspects together under one goal is an initial step towards addressing sector fragmentation and enabling coherent and sustainable management, thereby establishing SDG 6 as a major step towards a sustainable water future.
Monitoring makes it happen
Monitoring is not an end but rather a means to implement more effectively and efficiently. High-quality data help policy- and decision makers at all levels of government to identify challenges and set priorities, identify interlinkages across sectors (to harness synergies and manage potential conflicts) and learn about good practices. Data communicate progress over time, or lack thereof (and therefore associated requirements), to ensure accountability between governments and their citizens, as well as to raise awareness and gain political support, which in turn stimulates investment.