Blog.Mar 07, 2014

Why we need a dedicated water goal

Tough work lies ahead. The broad discussions and consultations carried out since autumn 2012 have to be boiled down to concrete proposals. It is therefore high time for the water community to bring forward a clear and coherent message on the urgency for a dedicated SDG on water.

Freshwater is a limited resource, central to food and energy production and at the heart of climate adaptation and mitigation. Access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation is a human right and fundamental for good health and gender equality. Rising demand from different users poses a huge risk for increased competition over water, a development that most certainly will not be beneficial for the poorest. According to the OECD Environmental Outlook 2050 report, global demands for freshwater from energy and industry will triple by 2050. The World Economic Forum “Global Risks 2014” report identifies water as the third highest risk likely to occur – for the third year in a row.

SIWI strongly believes that a dedicated SDG on water would provide a unique opportunity to address these challenges in a holistic and sustainable way. Also the outcome document from the Rio+20 conference endorses that water is “at the core of sustainable development as it is closely linked to a number of key global challenges”.

Despite the broad recognition of the centrality of water for poverty eradication and sustainable development, not all parties recognise the need for a dedicated water goal. In addition, influential forces such as the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) instead suggest that water and sanitation should be targets oriented under other SDGs. SIWI believes that splitting water and sanitation across multiple goals would mean a big opportunity loss for enabling efficiency and fair trade-offs.

Cluster (or nexus) SDGs have been put forward as solutions to capture the many competing goal suggestions. This may seem rational at first glance. However, it is cumbersome to determine which the optimal nexus goal for water would be. One obvious nexus is food-energy-water. But what about issues such as health, climate and infrastructure? And, not the least, gender and equity issues?

Most critical is that the SDGs are simple, clear and easy to follow up. They must work practically. We therefore need dedicated goals that address the fundamental needs for social, economic and ecological sustainable development. Naturally, dedicated goals should not equal goals in silos. They need to be connected through targets and indicators.

The focus areas are a good start, with water and sanitation as one of the suggested 19 focus areas and linkages to water are mentioned for many (if not all relevant) areas. But our task now to engage, motivate and bring a clear message forward. Water is at the core of sustainable development and it must be managed in a coherent way to avoid inefficiency and unfair and unsustainable distribution. Will we rise, together, to this challenge?