SDG 6 Acceleration Efforts Underway as Data Shows Targets Off Track - IISD

UN-Water convened a three-day event to discuss accelerating progress towards water and sanitation for all by 2030, and a report that indicates ambitions for 2030 remain off-track. Participants were briefed on the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework, upcoming high-level events on water, and the preparatory process for the 2023 UN conference for the midterm review of the Water Action Decade.

Over 30 UN organizations carry out water and sanitation programmes, and no single UN entity is dedicated exclusively to these issues, so in 2003, the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination endorsed UN-Water to play a coordinating role within the UN as it responds to water-related challenges. UN-Water Members and Partners gather together twice a year to discuss joint projects and other ways to collaborate to advance the global water and sanitation agenda. In March 2021, this meeting took place virtually due to the global pandemic.


On item on the agenda for the 34th UN-Water Meeting focused on the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework, which was launched in July 2020 to provide a platform for implementation of SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, including through country-level engagement pilot activities in eight countries: Bahrain, Costa Rica, Guinea, India, Madagascar, Mexico, Nepal, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Participants learned that best practices and lessons learned from the pilot will be showcased during an SDG 6 Special Event held in the context of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July 2021.


Also during the 34th UN-Water Meeting, participants reviewed the findings of the ‘Summary Progress Update 2021 on SDG 6.’ The report, launched on 4 March 2021, was produced by the Integrated Monitoring Initiative (IMI) on SDG 6, using the latest data on the indicators for each SDG 6 target. Among the findings highlighted:

  • Due to lack of data from many countries, it is not possible to produce a global estimation of water quality (SDG indicator 6.3.2). As a result, over 3 billion people are at risk because the health of their rivers, lakes, and groundwater is unknown.
  • On water stress (SDG indicator 6.4.2), water use efficiency is increasing, and we are currently using 17% of global water resources. However, this global average masks geographic disparities, with some regions using all of their water or using non-renewable water sources that will eventually run dry.
  • On water cooperation (SDG indicators 6.5.1 and 6.5.2), 129 countries are not on track to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030, and only 22 countries report operational arrangements for transboundary cooperation.
  • On SDG indicator 6.6.1 (ecosystems), Earth observations data show that one-fifth of the world’s river basins are experiencing rapid changes in the area covered by surface water.
  • On participation (SDG indicator 6.b.1), 109 countries have laws and procedures in place to involve communities in water and sanitation decisions, but only 14 are actually implementing those laws and realizing a high level of community participation in water and sanitation decision-making.


On the 2023 Conference on the Midterm Review of the Water Action Decade, the UN-Water Secretary said the Conference will take place at UN Headquarters in New York from 22-24 March 2023 at the highest possible level, and will be co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Netherlands. Five thematic dialogues will convene in addition to plenary sessions.


Speakers said the roadmap to the 2023 conference begins with the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting on 18 March 2021. Other global events that will provide inputs for the Conference include:

  • First annual SDG 6 Special Event in July 2021 to review progress and trigger new commitments to advance action;
  • High-level symposium on water to be convened by Portugal during the UN Ocean Conference (date to be determined);
  • High-level International Conference in 2022 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan to discuss internationally agreed water-related goals and targets and the implementation of the decade of action for the SDGs, and support effective preparations for the UN Conference. It will include a focus on the key role of water, sanitation, and hygiene in addressing the “COVID-19 sanitary crisis” and
  • Preparatory meeting, November 2022, convened by UNGA President, to finalize themes for the five dialogues.


During the 34th UN-Water meeting, which took place from 15-17 March 2021, participants endorsed a proposal for the UN to convene a Groundwater Summit in December 2022, at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France, aiming to improve the interface between science, policy, and practice. The proposed theme is “Making Invisible Visible.” UN-Water Members and Partners also agreed that “groundwater” will be the theme for both World Water Day and World Toilet Day in 2022. Ahead of the 9th World Water Forum in March 2022, a catalogue on groundwater management and governance will be developed.


During an Open Space-formatted session, one group proposed creating a working group on freshwater and biodiversity to explore the connections of SDG 6 with SDGs 13, 14 and 15 (climate action, life below water, and life on land). Another group suggested prioritizing actions to address transboundary water cooperation by mobilizing political will at the highest level, encouraging data exchange, and involving new actors including youth.


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