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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Acceleration for ambient water quality action – A UN Systems Approach

United Nations / Multilateral body
    Background: Currently, several challenges prevent the UN’s ambient water quality -related programmes and agencies (UNEP, WMO and UNESCO) from supporting UN Member States more effectively in accelerating their action to improve water quality: • There are many points of contact in the mandates and programmatic activities of these organizations, resulting in possible synergies whose potential has not yet been fully realized. UNEP GEMS/Water, UNESCO IHP (IIWQ) and the WMO in its Action Plan for Hydrology work with different networks, national focal points and partners to improve monitoring, assessment and management of freshwater quality. This can be converted into an important catalyst of synergies, noting that joint actions have already started. • There is no mature process in place among the different UN entities to align their work in the field of water quality and to act as a single, coherent UN movement and as a point of reference for Member States. Within UN-Water, these programmes such as UNEP GEMS/Water and more recently established action networks such as the World Water Quality Alliance (WWQA), and the UNESCO IIWQ have improved our knowledge regarding the status and latest trends in global water quality. The Water and Climate Coalition, WCC, convened by WMO addresses aspects of water quality within the context of climate change and drivers. However, too little has been achieved to reverse the widespread deterioration of freshwater resources from pollution, ecosystem degradation and climate change. These shortfalls can be traced back to a considerable degree, to the present limitation of water quality data in addition to capacity deficits. This initiative presents promising collaborative pathways aimed at enhancing the UN’s water quality architecture in order to accelerate action toward improving water quality. By identifying synergies, gaps, and overlaps in mandates, the new partnership-based architecture would be designed to streamline activities and increase the efficiency of interventions by fostering mutual support, coherence and collaboration between existing UN assets, communities of practice and partners across society. Objective: A multilateral mechanism at the UN level coordinates the continuous monitoring, reporting, and assessment of global freshwater quality – feeding into critical assessments such as UNEPs World Water Quality Assessment and the Global Water Assessment (Proposed by UNESCO). It supports UN Member States in building and maintaining their freshwater quality monitoring, reporting, assessment and management capacities, complementary to similar existing mechanisms for water quantity (e.g. WHO WHOS and HydroSOS). It provides a coherent infrastructure for collecting data and information through the promotion and advancement of interoperability and common water quality metadata requirements whilst enabling sharing within the respective mandates of parties.
    Expected Impact
    A consolidated and coherent approach to ambient water quality across the three UN Agencies will have multiple benefits at different scales: • A strong water quality partnership will provide a critical mass to push water quality issues higher on the political agenda (critical mass for Water Quality) including within UN-Water as well as the Member States • Consolidating available information and initiatives will strengthen the data and information base on water quality (contribute water quality data to the Global Water Data Portal proposed by the Water and Climate Coalition) and thereby provide a stronger knowledge base for assessments (i.e. UNEP’s World Water Quality Assessment and contribute to UNESCO’s initiative on a Water Assessment) as well as for science-policy-action agendas • Improved interoperability of water quality data will lead to better comparability of different water quality data provided by various member states, programs and projects and allow for broader integration and use of these data • Consolidation of capacity development activities on ambient water quality under the WWQA Capacity Development Consortium as contribution to the UN-Water Capacity Development initiative will assure adequate resources and support can be made available to Member States to support their water quality capacity development needs • Improved capacity by Member States to monitor and assess water quality will improve global reporting on SDG 632 (Ambient water quality) which is at the moment still a challenge for many countries due to a lack of sufficient data or capacities. • There will be an integration of various types of water quality data, including in-situ (including citizen science), Earth observation, and modeling to increase our knowledge base on water quality as much as possible including a wider group of partners and networks which are leading in the respective fields of data generation, analysis and assessment. • Joint outreach activities on water quality and its importance for freshwater ecosystem health will improve public awareness.

    Key Leads: UNEP, WMO, UNESCO
    Partners: International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change, World Water Quality Alliance and others

    Additional information

    Goal 6

    Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

    Goal 6


    By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all


    Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services


    By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations


    Proportion of population using (a) safely managed sanitation services and (b) a hand-washing facility with soap and water


    By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally


    Proportion of domestic and industrial wastewater flows safely treated


    Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality


    By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

    Change in water-use efficiency over time


    Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources


    By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate


    Degree of integrated water resources management 


    Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation


    By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

    Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time


    By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

    Amount of water- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of a government-coordinated spending plan


    Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management


    Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management

    Name Description
    Establishment of joint task force between the lead agencies to implement the initiative
    Draft data standards developed for interoperability of water quality data
    Pilot of interoperability of various water quality data based on the data standard
    Interoperability of water quality data across major data systems and networks achieved
    Staff / Technical expertise
    Each of the lead partners shall commit adequate staff time and technical expertise to support the task force and subsequent activities to implement the initiative
    In-kind contribution
    Each lead partner will provide in-kind contributions as required and agreed in form of hosting workshops and meetings
    Financing (in USD)
    Internal and external fundraising is required to support the implementation of the initiative
    No progress reports have been submitted. Please sign in and click here to submit one.
    Action Network
    water logo
    01 January 2023 (start date)
    31 December 2025 (date of completion)
    1. Global
    Other beneficiaries

    UN Member States
    Local Communities and Civil Society
    General Public

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