02 Jun 2020 Story Water

UNEP helps countries monitor sustainable development progress on water, despite COVID-19 challenges

Photo by Unsplash/ Johnny Mcclung

Despite the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working with partners on the next round of global data collection for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water and sanitation.

Information on progress from countries is essential to ensure accountability and generate political, public and private sector support for investment and action.

“The world is in a very challenging situation right now, with the focus of many countries on serious and immediate social and economic concerns directly linked to COVID-19,” says Joakim Harlin, Chief of UNEP’s Freshwater Ecosystems Unit.

“However, we are continuing to support countries with SDG 6 monitoring and reporting, as we know that improved water management and protection is important for people’s health now and in the longer term.”

Adjusting for COVID-19

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that UNEP must adjust the way it works with countries for SDG monitoring and reporting.

A good example is UNEP’s work with Goal 6 indicator 6.5.1 on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). IWRM is an approach used to coordinate the sustainable use of freshwater between various demands, such as needs for agriculture, industry, domestic and environmental needs. For Goal 6, indicator 6.5.1 on IWRM, countries monitor and report the degree to which they are implementing the approach.

In 2018, 172 countries reported on IWRM to establish a global baseline for indicator 6.5.1. In January 2020, the second round of global reporting was initiated with a 15 May deadline, but then came the coronavirus.

According to Maija Bertule, Senior Technical Adviser at UNEP-DHI Centre, who helps to coordinate UNEP’s frontline support efforts, “to date UNEP has received a number of messages from countries, all indicating  that there was a strong desire to engage in reporting, also in this second round of IWRM reporting, but that more time and flexibility would be needed due to the onset of COVID-19. It quickly became clear that we needed to adjust our support to suit the new reality.”

UNEP acted quickly to move the deadline from May to 31 July 2020 and reassure countries that it would do all it could to support them.

In 2017, 80 per cent of countries reported having laid the foundations for integrated water resources management. However, in most countries, implementation of IWRM needs to be accelerated to try to achieve Target 6.5 by 2030.

At the same time, UNEP and partners provided guidelines and examples on how to undertake stakeholder consultation processes through webinars and other available web-technologies. The aim is to inspire countries to respond and ensure that all relevant support materials are available online for download. Countries have also been encouraged to contact a dedicated online Help Desk for further assistance.

The countries requesting assistance have been guided towards the SDG 6 IWRM Support Programme. The programme provides direct assistance to countries in reporting on, and accelerating implementation of, IWRM and is coordinated by Global Water Partnership (GWP) in collaboration with the UNEP-DHI Centre and Cap-Net UNDP, under the guidance of UNEP.

GWP is now in the process of supporting 60-plus countries with online monitoring and reporting, with the expectation that around 20 of these will receive further assistance to develop and implement national IWRM action plans to promote the achievement of SDG 6 on water and sanitation.

Trinidad and Tobago was one of the first countries to undertake an online stakeholder consultation process through the SDG 6 IWRM Support Programme.

According to Ronald Roopnarine, Network Manager of Caribbean WaterNet (Cap-Net UNDP), “the virtual facilitation of the SDG 6.5.1 Trinidad and Tobago national consultation provided an avenue for effective and efficient discussions. The convenience of the process enabled increased stakeholder participation, a vital component towards an accurate assessment. It also enabled real-time data collection and representation, which enhanced intersectoral input and understanding, while promoting a communal outcome.”

Water sdg 2 Epena RoC 1.jpg Photo by Joakim Harlin, UNEP.jpg
River Likoula aux Herbes, Epena District, Likoula Region, northeastern Republic of Congo, 2020. Photo by Joakim Harlin, UNEP

United Nations SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Through the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 (IMI-SDG 6), UNEP and other SDG 6 indicator custodian agencies seek to support countries in monitoring water- and sanitation-related issues within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in compiling country data to report on global progress towards SDG 6.

UNEP has been mandated as custodian agency for three environmental indicators in SDG 6 within these targets:

  • 6.3: By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
  • 6.5: By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
  • 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

The custodian role includes responsibilities to develop statistically robust indicator methodologies, and collect, compile and verify national data for global reporting on SDG progress. UNEP also supports all 193 Member States in the process of submitting and verifying data for these indicators.


For more information, please contact Verozian Mangeli ([email protected]) or Gareth James Lloyd ([email protected]).