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Water and Sanitation: Letting Data Lead the Way

25 September 2019 – Guest article in International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) SDG Knowledge Hub by Mr Gilbert F. Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. So, four years into the SDGs, how are we doing?

Not so well. According to UN-Water’s ‘SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018,’ water pollution is worsening, water resource governance is weak and fragmented, and agriculture places enormous and increasing stress on freshwater supplies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme confirms the bad news: 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water services and 4.2 billion – well over half the world’s population – still have no access to safely managed sanitation services, many of them living in rural areas and least developed countries (LDCs).

While the situation should be of deep concern to decision-makers, it amounts to a full-blown crisis for those directly affected.

Clearly, we need sound data to find out where we are failing and to help countries make informed decisions that can steer policies and direct finance to where the needs are greatest.

Happily, things are brighter in this respect. UN-Water’s new SDG 6 Data Portal is the result of 18 months of development to integrate existing hydrological, environmental, social and economic information to show where progress is most needed.

But more must be done. Looking at the global picture, we see that country-monitoring systems need strengthening. These systems need more financial resources to hire staff skilled in data collection, analysis and communication.

Today, the average Member State is reporting only on five out of 11 of the SDG 6 indicators. The hope is that the SDG Data Portal will act as an incentive to collect more, standardized data. This information can then be used to measure progress, ensure accountability and generate political, public and private-sector support for further investments.

The Portal:

  • Tracks overall progress towards SDG 6 at global, regional and national levels;
  • Enables assessment and analysis of the state of water resources and linkages to other sectors;
  • Raises awareness of water and sanitation issues to help catalyze action; and
  • Encourages and improves SDG 6 monitoring and reporting at all levels.

I encourage you to start exploring the Portal: for example, you can find out how many people still lack safe drinking water and sanitation in your country. Are ecosystems in your region being protected and restored, or exploited and degraded? What is the level of water stress where you live?

Now and in the future, new information and communication technology gives us more and better data to improve our lives, and the SDG 6 Data Portal is UN-Water’s contribution to a more evidence-based approach to international development.

Access the SDG 6 Data portal on 



Further Information

The Portal was developed as a central part of the UN-Water Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6, which brings together the UN agencies that are formally mandated to compile country data on the global indicators under SDG 6.

Through the Initiative, the UN seeks to support countries in monitoring water- and sanitation-related issues within the framework of the 2030 Agenda, and in compiling country data to report on global progress towards SDG 6.

The Portal complements the UN Statistics Division’s Global SDG Indicators Database and indicator-specific databases by offering more, in-depth information across all SDG 6 indicators, as well as tailor-made analytical and visualization tools, including interactive maps and charts.

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