Home  Topics  Water in the post-2015 development agenda Target B: Water Resources

Target B: Water Resources

Target B: Improve by (x%) the sustainable use and development of water resources in all countries.

This target aims to promote decisions and actions that take into account both human and environmental water requirements, as well as the need to increase the long-term viability of natural supply systems. Given the diversity in levels of development between countries, this target enables each country to set its own desired progress according to its specific circumstances, responding to the call for the post-2015 development agenda to be adapted to national contexts.

Achieving the target will require actions covering the following three elements:

  • Bringing freshwater withdrawals into line with sustainably available water resources;
  • Restoring and maintaining ecosystems to provide water-related services;
  • Increasing water productivity for all uses.

As global water withdrawals continue to rise by approximately 10% every 10 years  (expected to be much higher in developing regions), it is becoming increasingly critical to bring water withdrawals into line with limited renewable levels of ground and surface water. Complementary measures would be required to balance demands from different users and uses, and to increase the amount of freshwater available for use by increasing storage capacity. Options for the latter range from natural water stores, such as groundwater aquifers, soil water and natural wetlands, to small artificial ponds, tanks and reservoirs behind major dams.

The overall improvement in human well-being in recent years has come with growing problems of habitat fragmentation and loss, biodiversity loss, increases in certain human health risks, and growing levels of water pollution . The Millennium Ecosystems Assessment stressed that the capacity of freshwater ecosystems to provide clean and reliable sources of water is in a state of accelerating decline in many parts of the world . The urgent need to restore and maintain ecosystems to provide water-related services on which we depend cannot be overstated.

Global water withdrawals of approximately 4,000 km3 annually are shared between agricultural (70%), domestic (10%) and industrial (20%) uses . Although it is widely known that water is a limited resource, water that is withdrawn often goes to waste through a combination of poor agricultural practices, leakages from supply infrastructure, domestic misuse and inefficient industrial processes. Changes in practices aimed at reducing waste and increasing water productivity are not only essential to secure sustained social and economic development, but can also lead to huge cost saving.


This target and its three related elements are combined with a set of indicators to promote more sustainable use and development of water resources.  The indicators build on MDG indicator 7.5, the ‘Proportion of total water resources used’ and extend this to determine if water is being managed in a sustainable way, balancing the social, economic and environmental demands with resource availability. The target is intended to stimulate responsible water resources development both in countries with adequate supplies and those with scarce resources. Given the central role of hydrological basins (surface and groundwater) in the management of water resources, countries will need to establish mechanisms that are effective at basin level, including those that cover more than one country or state.


Photo credits: Malini Morzari, Martine Perret

Last update:07 Oct 2014