Natalia Uribe Pando talks to GRoW about regional policy papers underlining the critical role of water to achieve the SDGs.


The UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) recently analysed the critical role of water to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under review at the 2019 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Three regional policy papers for Africa, the Arab region and Latin America and the Caribbean present findings and policy recommendations to support the inclusion of water in planning across sectors. Additionally, a Policy Brief summarizes findings and policy recommendations from these regional analyses. GRoW talked to Natalia Uribe Pando, Programme Specialist in Policy, Advocacy and Valorisation with UNESCO WWAP about the great potential of SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and how research can help to foster synergies and avoid trade-offs.

GRoW: Following up on the SDG 6 Synthesis Report published in 2018, you conducted three regional analyses. Where did the idea come from?


Uribe Pando: The UN-Water SDG 6 Synthesis Report was produced in 2018. That year, the SDG 6 on water and sanitation was one of the goals reviewed in depth at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), the mechanism of the UN to review the implementation of the SDGs. The idea behind the Synthesis Report was to have a joint position from the UN on the global status on SDG 6 and other water-related targets, and speak with one voice instead of each organisation presenting its own report. As part of the process, we stimulated an interesting ‘public dialogue’ with a variety of stakeholders, in order to gather feedback on the SDG 6 Synthesis Report and the next steps needed to accelerate implementation. We gathered data during face to face workshops and online evaluations to develop concrete recommendations. Participants found the report very useful and relevant, including the information about how SDG 6 is interlinked to other SDG targets and indicators of the Agenda 2030. However, there was a clear recommendation to go beyond the global level and to focus further at the regional and national levels, so that the findings and recommendations can be more relevant for decision-makers. Based on this, we thought it could be interesting to conduct some regional evaluations and look on how SDG 6 is relevant in order to achieve other SDGs.

GRoW: What was the main focus of these regional evaluations and which regions did you focus on?

Uribe Pando: Within the regional evaluations we focused on how water (SDG 6) is crucial to achieve the other SDGs. Our analysis focused on those SDGs that were under in-depth review at the HLPF in 2019: SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (means of implementation and partnerships). The aim was to bring together facts and figures from different regions and show relevant information, concrete country examples as well as policy recommendations to better take water into account when implementing those SDGs. We carried out regional evaluations for Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Arab region.

GRoW: What is the main objective of the regional policy papers?

Uribe Pando: We believe this material can be useful to support all relevant stakeholders, policy-makers and decision-makers to better understand the linkages between SDG 6 and other SDGs, and to foster more coherent policies and integrated implementation of the Agenda 2030. These evaluations were presented at the HLPF Regional Preparatory Meetings as well as at a dedicated event during the HLPF in New York. Together with supporting the consideration of water at this year’s HLPF, we also wanted to find out how countries are taking water into account in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) in 2019: whether countries are referring to the linkages of water with other SDGs and if countries are including a dedicated section reporting on SDG 6 implementation. We just finalized a brief with key findings from this analysis of water in the 47 countries’ Voluntary National Reviews.

GRoW: Whom did you work with to develop the regional analyses?

Uribe Pando: We developed the three regional analyses with the support of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany (BMU). On the regional level, we worked with the regional economic commissions. We further received input from UN Water and UNESCO regional offices, as well as from participants during the several regional preparatory meetings.

GRoW: The regional studies and the VNR policy brief refer to cross-cutting issues of SDG 6 with other SDGs. Which other SDGs are most challenging to address?

Uribe Pando: We focused on those SDGs under review at HLPF in 2019. Looking at the interlinkages between SDG 6 and these SDGs, we found from the VNR analysis that there was particularly strong recognition of the role of water to address SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 13 (Climate Action) and 17 (Partnerships). In relation to SDG 13 and 17, we found that 79% of the VNRs are linking the topics to water. The link between climate change and water was highlighted specifically. In contrast, the link between water and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) was much less recognised: only 36% of the VNRs indicated interlinkages here. No explicit connection was made by water scarce countries in the Middle East and Latin America, which we found surprising as we identified water to be crucial to achieve SDG 8. The policy brief illustrates how important water is to sustain economic growth and employment: three out of four jobs are water-dependent. Reliable water supplies are necessary for economic growth and job security.

GRoW: Looking at interlinkages between SDG 6 and SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities), how do you think improved water quality and supply systems can contribute to reduce inequalities, for example in rural areas of Guatemala?

Uribe Pando: Lack of access to safe water and sanitation is both and indicator and a consequence: it reflects inequalities, as it affects more marginalized populations, who don’t have access and/or pay relative greater costs. However, advancing access and including those who have been left behind is an important step towards reducing such inequalities, due to the important role of water for education, health, nutrition, gender equality, etc. Implementing the rights to water and sanitation requires more inclusive policies and giving priority to those being left behind. Specific funding is needed for those target groups, in Guatemala the lowest levels of coverage being in rural areas affecting predominantly indigenous populations.

GRoW: You focused on three different world regions in your work. What are main differences and/or similarities that you discovered and how do policy recommendations differ for the different regions?

Uribe Pando: I would say that they do share common main messages. We captured findings from the three regional evaluations into one policy brief with key messages. We do believe that the overall key messages can be useful across the regions. For example, water and sanitation services in schools are needed in every region to promote quality education (SDG 4). It is important to include maintenance costs of such services in the budget as dedicated funding is necessary. What I found surprising is that in the Arab region, access to WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) services in schools has decreased in the past years. This is due to a number of reasons such as armed conflicts, water scarcity and refugee fluxes.

GRoW: Who will directly benefit from your policy analyses?

Uribe Pando: These analyses can be seen as tools that can help UN Economic Commissions and organisations that support the countries in the mentioned regions in including water when implementing SDGs. Policy and decision-makers in water-related sectors in these regions could further use them as a tool to illustrate the cross-cutting importance of water when dealing with actors such as finance ministries, parliaments and civil society actors.

GRoW: What can the science community do to enable and accelerate progress on achieving SDG 6? Where do you see the greatest potential for its involvement?

Uribe Pando: The science community has an important role to show concrete examples and sharing their results, conclusions and findings. It is important to show what has worked on the ground and how it did work. Also, I think there are still difficulties in monitoring the SGD 6 indicators. A lot of country reports mentioned IWRM as a current or future national objective, but only very few actually reported on these indicators in the VNRs. Another important research area is the link between water and climate. We know that climate change is affecting the whole water cycle. The water sector emerges as one of the most vulnerable sectors and floods and droughts are two key climate threats. More and more countries are recognising water as a key priority in their adaptation action policies. However, poor infrastructure, a lack of institutional resources as well as the challenge of planning and implementing a monitoring system for water management are limiting effective climate adaptation. The research community needs to focus on these issues to reduce those limiting factors.

GRoW: We are planning a synthesis report on the topic of SDG interlinkages, based on GRoW activities, at the end of the project. However, the challenge remains that the projects themselves need to make a practical impact on the ground to foster synergies and avoid trade-offs. Do you have any practical recommendation for GRoW research projects to better tackle this challenge?

Uribe Pando: I believe it is important to find ways on how to value water resources more and better. Key questions are: How do we take into account the multiple values of water for different stakeholders in different sectors? How can this be used to better support decision-making processes? This is one of the topics we have recently discussed with respect to the 2021 World Water Development Report, which will be on “Valuing water”. It is essential to convince stakeholders that working across sectors in closely interlinked processes can create an enormous added value. Science can support this with facts and results showing the impact. However, we, the water community, should reach out more by creating opportunities to learn from and engage with other sectors.

GRoW: Thank you very much for talking to us. I am convinced that the policy papers will serve as a base to stimulate discussion also on the final conference of GRoW on 23-24 June 2020 in Berlin. We plan to bring together international policymakers and scientists to jointly discuss GRoW findings and develop relevant future research questions.

More on water as a cross-cutting factor in the SDGs under review at the HLPF 2019 in: