On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This document contained 17 goals for sustainable development, 169 proposed targets for these goals and 304 proposed indicators to show compliance.

Whilst only one goal relates specifically to water, water underpins or is associated with almost all of the other goals thanks to its multiple roles in economic growth, environmental health and human wellbeing.

But, in many cases, urbanization, economic development, climate change, and the need to produce more food for a growing population are limiting water availability. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. A central challenge for sustainable development is how to balance the competing uses of water; ensure that the needs of all—especially of the poor and marginalized—are met; and maintain healthy and diverse ecosystems.


Targets for water

It is therefore no surprise that water appears as a recurring theme in many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the proposed “targets” that serve as guideposts toward their achievement.

But when it comes to managing water—our most precious natural resource—targets for achieving these SDGs need to ensure we both deliver and yet account for the context in which they will be applied. For instance, especially when it comes to water, targets that prescribe general policy approaches likely will not be appropriate for all countries, given the vastly different levels of economic and social development among the 193 member states of the United Nations. Ideally, all of these states will ultimately adopt the SDGs and strive to deliver on targets appropriate to their specific circumstances.


Policies and technologies

Some of the proposed targets are focused more on principle than on practical application. Policies that sound good on paper can be difficult to achieve and sometimes come at a real cost to people—especially the poor, women and marginalized groups—and to the environment. Sustainable and efficient management of our water resources requires frameworks responsive enough to address a wide range of national and local contexts.

Similarly, new technologies and practices need to consider the institutional and policy environment in the success of water-interventions, not only in terms of supporting implementation, but also in minimizing social, economic and environmental trade-offs.

IWMI is uniquely positioned to support and advise national governments in the setting and achieving of their water related goals. Our cross disciplinary approach and first-hand knowledge of the countries where we work will enable us to offer evidence-based recommendations for meaningful and effective target setting.

Download IWMI’s Guide to SDG target setting


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