Indicators are essentials tools for tracking water sector progress, supporting policy evaluation and informing the public. As part of their commitment to transparency and better information, UN-Water aims to use a core set of indicators to monitor and communicate its knowledge of the status and progress in the water sector. The water sector encompasses all means and activities that use or have an impact on water resources.
UN-Water members and partners have long expertise on monitoring and reporting using several sets of indicators, each responding to specific purposes. The UN-Water set builds on these various sets and a large consultation process to select a core set that would be illustrative of the main water issues.
It builds on the idea that there is no unique set of indicators. The appropriateness of any given set depends on its use. Indicators are only one tool among other that have to be interpreted in context.
How were the indicators selected?
The current set of key indicators has been selected from larger sets to report on water related issues, such as water resources, agriculture, industry, energy, urban, environment) using SMART criteria, which means they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. In particular, the minimum set selection took into account:
- their policy relevance with respect to major water challenges for the 21st century, including concern for increased scarcity, degradation, and lack of access;
- analytical soundness; and
- their measurability, now or in the medium term.
The key indicators set aims to inform civil society and to support a wider communication with the public. It also should provide a snapshot of world water issues for UN-Water clients. It is clear that such a minimum set can only suggest an overall picture of the water sector and does not allow in depth analysis leading to intervention.
The list of indicators hence is neither final nor exhaustive. It will evolve as knowledge and data availability improve. Ultimately, the list is expected to include key indicators relevant for issues such as toxic contamination and pinpoint the effectiveness of water use at important sub-units (relevant sample of irrigated schemes, cities, industries).
The indicators correspond to varying degrees of policy relevance and policy priorities for different countries. They have to be interpreted in context and be completed with country specific information to acquire their full meaning.
One of UN-Water's purposes is to 'monitor the water sector performance, from the point of view of a sustainable development objective'. This includes a set of more specific objectives related to particular dimensions of water management and related Millennium Development Goals (particularly Goal 7) that permit performance assessments.
The indicators are grouped in four categories.
Geographical scale, data sources and updates
- Context: Some of these indicators relate to the natural context, such as water availability and rainfall. Others relate to infrastructures such as water treatment capacity and storage, as well as human resources and economic capital. These indicators are required to provide a benchmark for measuring the achievements of territories sharing a comparable context.
- Function: These indicators relate to inputs, outputs and outcomes. A number of these indicators are concerned with the description of the dynamic functioning of the water sector, such as water withdrawals, water depletion and waste water treated at national level.
- Performance: Performance assessment takes into account the functioning of the sector in relation to its objectives or within a given context. Issues of efficiency/productivity, effectiveness and impact are considered. These indicators include access to water supply and sanitation and value added in agriculture and industry.
- Governance: A set of governance indicators is needed to furnish possible explanations behind varying levels of performance between a given territory and different benchmarked territories. To provide an insightful diagnosis as to the possible weak spots requiring investigation and possible improvement or reform, governance indicators must encompass the territorial management of water resources and water use.
The implicit geographical scale adopted by UN Water is the national level. However, some indicators could also be monitored at the sub-regional level and for other areas, such as river basins, cities or farmlands under large irrigation schemes.
Data will be updated regularly, 1 to 5 years depending on the data set.
These indicators build on data from UN-Water members and partners data bases that are updated with information provided by members countries authorities, from internal UN and other international or regional sources, such as OECD and Eurostat.
For more information go to 'Set of key indicators for the water sector'