Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals and water

The establishment of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, confirms the importance of water and sanitation in the global political agenda. Building on the relevant Millennium Development Goal, SDG 6 addresses the sustainability of water and sanitation access by focusing on the quality, availability and management of freshwater resources.

SDG 6 recognizes that social development and economic prosperity depend on the sustainable management and sharing of freshwater resources and ecosystems. SDG 6 acknowledges that ecosystems and their inhabitants, including humans, are water users and that their activities on land can compromise the quality and availability of fresh water. Water-related ecosystems addressed in SDG 6 include wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes, which sustain a high level of biodiversity and life.

These ecosystems are also vital for providing multiple benefits and services, such as hydropower, irrigation, humidity and precipitation, habitats for aquatic life and water purification. Well-managed water-related ecosystems contribute to addressing competing demands for water, mitigate climate change risks and help build community peace and trust. They are therefore essential for achieving sustainable development, peace, security and human health and well-being.

What we do

UN Environment, as a global organization, has a mandate to help countries develop, implement and report on a number of the “environmental” freshwater indicators in SDG 6. Beyond that, as many of the other SDGs relate closely to freshwater, UN Environment provides input to freshwater aspects as they relate to other areas of sustainable development, such as food and energy production.

UN Environment helps countries monitor and report on three environmental indicators in SDG 6 within the targets relating to ecosystem health and their quality (6.6 and 6.3) and integrated water resources management (6.5). As the global custodian, UN Environment supports countries in the process of submitting and verifying data for these indicators.

UN Member States reported on the global progress of SDG 6 at the 2018 High Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development.  An SDG 6 Synthesis report was prepared to support this review, followed by more detailed individual reports on each SDG 6 indicator. Launched in August 2018, UN Environment led the preparation of SDG 6 indicator reports on ecosystem health (6.6.1) and their quality (6.3.2), and integrated water resources management (6.5.1).

UN Environment has initiated collaboration with some members of the Global Earth Observation community such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Google Earth Engine, to compliment the effort of countries in generating accurate data using satellite imagery. The satellite imagery will generate data on spatial extent of freshwater ecosystems as well as certain water quality parameters of freshwater ecosystems.