Action Plan

September 21st, 2016

Background on the Panel


Water connects public health, food security, livable cities, energy for all, environmental wellbeing, and climate action. Water and sanitation are necessary for human dignity and economic growth. Yet, as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make clear, the world needs to transform the way it manages its water resources, as well as improve water and sanitation related services for billions of people.

Pressure on water is rising, and action is urgent. Growing populations, more water-intensive patterns of growth, increasing rainfall variability, and pollution are combining in many places to make water one of the greatest risks to poverty eradication and sustainable development. Floods and droughts already impose huge social and economic costs around the world, and climate variability will make water extremes worse. If the world continues on its current path, projections suggest that the world may face a 40% shortfall in water availability by 2030. The consequences of such stress are local, transboundary and global in todays interconnected world.


Achieving the SDGs will require governments, societies, and the private sector to change the way they use and manage water. To accelerate this transformation the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim have convened a High Level Panel on Water. The Panel (HLPW), at the Heads of State and Government level, will provide the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services.

The Panel members include:

H.E. Ms. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius (Co-Chair) H.E. Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico (Co-Chair)

H.E. Mr. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia H.E. Ms. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh H.E. Mr. János Áder, President of Hungary

H.E. Mr. Hani Al-Mulki, Prime Minister of Jordan

H.E. Mr. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of The Netherlands H.E. Mr. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Godard, President of Peru H.E. Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa

H.E. Mr. Macky Sall, President of Senegal

H.E. Mr. Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan

Special Advisor Dr. Han Seung-soo, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea

The core focus of the Panel over the two years of its mandate will be to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (SDG 6), as well as contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources. To achieve this, the Panel will:

  • Motivate Effective Action – by changing the way that the world thinks about water, and by shining a light on examples of policies, institutions, and programs that could help the world onto a more sustainable pathway, the HLPW can help motivate effective action across governments, civil society, and the private sector.
  • Advocate on Financing and Implementation – by promoting efforts to mobilize and target financial resources, scale-up investment, and encourage innovation and partnerships, the HLPW can help the world improve water and sanitation related services, as well as build more sustainable and resilient societies and economies.. 

To have the most impact in the time it has left, the Panel will focus on empowering and enhancing the most results-driven initiatives with respect to the water related SDGs, while keeping an eye on the most vulnerable and marginalized to ensure that no one is left behind

The Action Plan 

This Action Plan is a living document which we expect to update over the life of panel. Together, the action areas described below, represent a comprehensive and integrated approach to helping ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (SDG 6), as well as contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources.

The areas of action are summarized in the accompanying graphic, which together represent a comprehensive agenda for action. Each action area is interdependent with others, and a number of specific actions are therefore overlapping and mutually reinforcing.

The work to date has been guided by a number of key considerations and principles, including:   

  • Political leadership for a comprehensive approach – technical solutions to many of the world’s water problems already exist but strong and coordinated political leadership is required to make progress;
  • A commitment to the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation;
  • Transparency and inclusion – all interested organizations shall be given equal chances to engage and contribute;
  • Autonomy – organizations need to define, organize and drive their own engagement in support of the agenda – the Panel will set directions and provide momentum;
  • Collaboration – having an effective working interface between existing organizations and the Panel is critical. It will include both online and direct interactions with the Panel or their Sherpas;
  • Continuous engagement through regular consultations.


I. Catalyzing Changes, Building Partnerships and International Cooperation


Water is the foundation of sustainable development and poverty eradication

It is essential to food security and sustainable agriculture, health, sanitation, gender equality, sustainable industry, tourism and urbanization. Water, in the form of floods and droughts, can also be seen as a threat to people’s lives and national security. The central role of water in sustainable development has been recognized in the 2030 Agenda as articulated in SDG6 and other water-related targets. This 2030 Agenda also explicitly calls on countries to implement the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. However, there are challenges in implementing, monitoring and reviewing actions geared toward reaching these ambitious goals and targets.

Insufficient political awareness and leadership on water hampers advancement of global sustainable development

Despite water being a critical component in the global development agenda, it is often marginalized as a sideline subject, and often left out of budgeting, legislation, and  human resources mobilization decisions and discussions. The enormous gender and development benefits of access to water and sanitation are too often not recognized. Insufficient attention and action in addressing these water and sanitation challenges has resulted in countries’ slow development, persistent poverty and peoples’ low quality of life. Transboundary river basins support nearly 40 percent of the world’s people, and proper transboundary cooperation helps countries optimize benefits, allowing for better storage, regulation, and allocation of water resources  to meet the water needs of the future and adjust to climate shocks.

Global leadership is required to define a political agenda and jump start or accelerate action in support of SDG6 and other water-related targets

Water requires holistic and inclusive approaches in addition to engagement and commitment from all sectors of society. Strong political leadership is therefore required to raise “water” awareness among other political leaders (i.e., Head of States or government), Ministries of Finance, Planning, Agriculture, Energy, Health and other parts of government that rely on (or impact) water but do not see themselves as managing water, as well as other key public, private an civil society stakeholders in order to galvanize action.


  1. Encourage the consideration of an inter- governmental platform of water cooperation under the UN umbrella, to support the implementation of water related SDGs. Support the call for UNGA resolution on Water Decade for Sustainable Development as well as the appropriateness of establishing an International (Scientific) Panel on Water.
  2. Encourage, lobby, and promote, individually and collectively, the establishment of an African Union Water Summit, Water Summit by Small Island Developing States, the UN Special Session on Water and Disasters, the continuation of Asia Pacific Water Summits, and other global and regional Summits and Dialogue process to raise top awareness and in depth discussion on focused water issues at top political levels.
  3. Initiate and advocate for an improved and comprehensive narrative on how to change the way the world thinks about water.
  4. Encourage heads of countries  and  key organizations to jump start country agenda setting, awareness raising and implementation with close regional coordination and collaboration.

  5. Encourage key players to take action to help design and contribute to funds/initiatives for water.
  6. Advocate for enhanced capacity building and training, and sharing of good practices, at all levels and across water sectors, and – if relevant – in coordination with other related sectors.
  7. Encourage the development and exchange of knowledge on deltas, resilience and inclusive sustainable development of urban deltas, and promote practical implementation (e.g. Delta Coalition).
  8. Endorse/promote such agreements and instruments that are likely to help with water transboundary issues.
  9. Initiate/Promote the active involvement of Young Water Leaders/Future generations in the Water Development Agenda.

II. Resilient Economies, Societies, and Disaster Risk Reduction


A growing economy is a thirsty economy

Water is central to sustainable development and achieving the broader development goals on poverty reduction, food, energy, cities, and health. Policy and decision makers face tough political choices and trade-offs in allocating water resources across competing demands, as well as in maintaining the quality of water for today and future generations.

The impacts of water scarcity on economies and societies will rise

If current trends observed in climate change continue, water scarcity will worsen in many countries where it is already a significant problem, and will extend to new areas. There will be more frequent / severe droughts, accompanied by worsening economic and societal shocks, unless planned for and mitigated well in advance. Changes in human populations and settlements, as well as increasing demand for agriculture purposes will exacerbate scarcity problems, as will poor decisions on water allocation and use. 45% of total GDP is projected to be at risk due to water stress by 2050. Water scarcity can also be a key factor in migration, contributing to people leaving a place, but scarcity can also be caused by or exacerbated by the arrival of migrants. Unequal access to water and sanitation for women and girls increases morbidity and undermines productivity.

Water is life but also a threat to life

During the past decade, water-related disasters have not only struck more frequently but have also been more severe, hampering sustainable development by causing political, social, and economic upheaval in many countries. Global economic losses from natural disasters are now estimated at between US$ 250 billion and US$ 300 billion each year. Sea-level rise can multiply the impacts of storms by creating devastating tidal surges, often aggravated by land subsidence caused by urban construction, groundwater extraction, and the alteration of sedimentation dynamics.

There is a need for new approaches to economic development and infrastructure planning

In many countries and regions, options to build new water supply infrastructure, will be necessary but also constrained because systems are approaching hydrological and ecological limits and/or are becoming less reliable under climate change. Building resilience to scarcity and drought will need to be seen as an integral component of water security planning for economic growth, with innovative allocation and demand-side policies complementing the traditional approach of building additional, or more reliable, water supply infrastructure. New design development and investment strategies will need to be identified, to build resilient infrastructure that will help “future proof” nations’ economic interests – and in today’s inter-connected world our global supply chains.

Reducing the impact of water-related disasters is critical to achieve sustainable development

Water-related disasters can disrupt the lives of citizens, wipe away many years of development gains and cause political unrest. Water-related disaster risk reduction requires preventive investments and effective emergency response measures weaved into long-term planning. Solutions, policies and tools to address water-related disasters need to be considered in and integrated into sustainable development strategies.


  1. Initiate an analysis of  (i) water crises risks (scarcity, water quality and excess water) from climate change and extreme weather events in areas identified as most vulnerable (ii) good practices on managing mega floods and droughts, including validation of investment for water-related DRR.
  2. Encourage the UN to create a platform where states can share and exchange lessons and good practices for addressing water-related disasters and translate them into solutions that can be promoted globally.
  3. Encourage states and organizations to focus on measures to improve water use efficiency for resilient economies (agriculture, energy, industry), climate action and human settlement, by encouraging and including new technologies and policy reforms. Initiate/launch a Challenge inviting the international community to present innovative solutions to improve the efficiency of water use.
  4. Encourage the academic community to maximize the use of existing knowledge and create knowledge base and tools for better understanding the impacts of water-related disasters and facilitate decision making for prevention and mitigation of risks.
  5. Call for implementation of projects to strengthen water security and the economic resilience of negatively marginalized communities, with a focus on impact for women, girls and people with disability within those communities.

III. Universal Access to Safe Water and Sanitation


Access to clean water and sanitation should not be a privilege for a few, but a basic human right, as the United Nations has previously agreed
Access to safe and reliable services leads to disease prevention, enhanced human health, reduced gender and income inequality, improved educational outcomes, and higher economic productivity. More than a quarter of a trillion dollars in global GDP is lost every year because of inadequacies in water supply and sanitation services.

Major access gaps remain in water and sanitation, leading to serious social and economic impacts

As of 2015, about 1.8 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion to improved sanitation facilities. The vast majority of those lacking access to clean water or to safe, hygienic toilet facilities live in rural areas, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In these regions in particular, serious gender imbalances in terms of access. Women and girls usually walk long distances to fetch water and do not have basic sanitation facilities. More than 700 million urban residents also do not have access to sanitation, partly due to the rapid pace of urbanization. Lack of access to safe and hygienic toilet facilities creates serious problems of urban waste water. Health concerns are critically associated with open defecation practices, which can contaminate water and spread diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and dysentery. Every day, around 2,000 children under the age of 5 die from diarrheal diseases, with some 1,800 of these deaths are linked to deficient water, sanitation or hygiene. The “last mile” groups, including the poorest, the most remote and the most marginalized, are falling further and further behind in terms of access to services.

Even for those who have access to water, services are often inadequate or unsustainable, and water from improved sources can still be unsafe to drink.

 Overstretched service providers often lack capacity or resources to address these challenges. Robust and effective service delivery models require the set-up of enabling institutional and regulatory environments ensuring service providers’ autonomy to make the right investment and operational decisions, and their accountability to all existing and aspiring end users in their area of service. There is no one-size-fits-all model, but a broad range of options (water user associations, municipal utilities, departments within local public administrations, etc.) depending on the nature of local constraints and challenges. Matching everywhere the growth in access seen by wealthier populations will require innovative approaches, as well as a much stronger focus on institutions of service delivery and the role of gender.


  1. Initiate/launch a Challenge inviting the international community to present innovative solutions to provide access to safe and clean drinking water and adequate sanitation to women and girls in the “most remote dwelling” in a village (could be expanded to other categories: refugee camps, rural, periurban, access for people with disability etc.).
  2. Encourage the development and deployment of public awareness and education campaigns for civil society, businesses and government representatives around water quality, sanitation, gender and health.
  3. Catalyze actions and activate solutions aimed at reducing the economic and human costs of poor water quality and poor sanitation, including those that will reverse the degradation of aquatic ecosystems.
  4. Encourage (and commit) to scaling up access to safe and clean drinking water and adequate sanitation especially for women and girls.
  5. Encourage the recycling of wastewater and ensuring quality prior to human consumption (irrigation or otherwise).
  6. Encourage the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

IV. Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements


Urban and peri-urban development challenge

While cities and towns account for more than 70% of global GDP, many are facing complex and interrelated challenges including population growth, resource constraints, degraded environments and increasing climate uncertainty.

If current trends continue, compounded by recent migration waves, one billion new urban and peri-urban dwellers will push the total population of our global cities to more than 6 billion by 2050. Many of these residents will not reside in megacities but instead on the fringes or in middle-sized or small urban centers, with Africa set to experience the biggest swell in urban populations. Women will experience increased vulnerability to violence, abuse and trauma, in part related to poor water and sanitation services.

Water supply and sanitation challenge

Under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), access to water supply and sanitation services has significantly increased, yet delivered services were often unsustainable. Efforts, in terms of infrastructure development and improvement of services, should go towards achieving the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, particularly in informal settlements where access levels, service quality and sustainability are poor. Utilities often lack capacity or resources to address these challenges, and political space to voice their concerns. Following mitigated results from the sanitation MDGs, efforts must be increased to avoid jeopardizing gains on drinking water, health and the environment SDGs. Achieving adequate sanitation must be understood in a cyclical manner where waste is treated and, when possible, converted to resources.

Climate shocks

Over the coming decades, extreme weather events (droughts, violent storms), are poised to overwhelm urban water infrastructure, causing extensive suffering and environmental degradation. The biggest cities, found in deltas and coastal zones, are particularly vulnerable to disasters such as droughts, flooding and tsunamis. Cities must plan water infrastructure and systems that are resilient to these increasing shocks and to a changing climate, ensuring that those traditionally most exposed to such events are protected and efficiently use their water resources.

Towards more integrated management of urban water

There is widespread agreement that urban water management models, based on abundant resources, segmented system components, and disconnected from both urban planning and watersheds, are ill-equipped to meet the complex developmental needs of rapidly-growing cities. Urban design often fails to include consideration of how to provide safe, secure and inclusive access to water and sanitation. However, there is limited progress towards implementing and mainstreaming the alternative, integrated water paradigm.


  1. Endorse effective models of resilient urban water management, in line with the Habitat 3 New Urban Agenda, which embrace a basinwide perspective (including trans- boundary) and integrated planning of urban development, green and gray water infrastructure.
  2. Encourage participation and support with partnerships for technical exchanges and action between countries or urban areas sharing similar challenges (e.g. Urban Water Alliance, WOPs).
  3. Initiate consolidation of existing research and recommendation on water and peace/conflict and migration/informal settlements.
  4. Call for a meeting of the major urban water programs to coordinate and where possible align on a 21st century water and climate resilient cities agenda.

V. Water and the Environment


The environment provides a number of key water management services

This includes water provision, storage, filtering/cleaning, flood management, and reduced droughts / scarcity. These services rely on a healthy environment, which in turn requires sufficient water. Water pollution resulting from human activities relates to biodiversity loss, reduced ecosystem functioning and the unsuitability of water for various uses, and has clear health and socio-economic impacts. Clear threats for example are eutrophication of water from agricultural runoffs, untreated sewage, acidification of water, etc.

Inadequate treatment of wastewater and management of diffuse pollution

Pressures on water quality, ecosystem and biodiversity are particularly severe due to poor wastewater management, inadequate disposal of industrial and agricultural water. They stem from a lack of political will, underinvestment, inefficient allocation of water, land-use changes, population growth and the absence policy-maker awareness of water’s critical link with areas of development such as health, poverty, gender inequality, environmental degradation, and food security. About 90% of all municipal waste water in developing countries is discharged untreated.

In addition, conventional wastewater treatment mainly targets organic matters but emerging pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, industrial and household chemicals, are rarely monitored. Little is known about the effects of these pollutants and they may negatively impact human and environmental health. Due to its disperse nature, regulating and controlling diffuse pollution is another serious challenge, and many countries do not have adequate regulatory tools for controlling it.

A number of current water crises have roots in environmental degradation, such as deforestation, swamp clearance, or pollution, and are also exacerbated by climate change

Protecting or restoring the environment – or maintaining or expanding ‘natural infrastructure’ – may be the most cost-effective approach to avoiding water stress.

Environmental systems are in decline, raising the costs of development

One study estimates the economic loss from reduced environmental services to be over $4 trillion between 2007 and 2011. Investments in protected area management are generally very low in comparison to their economic value, while investments in wastewater management are low compared to their economic costs.

Built and natural (or grey and green) infrastructure should be considered together

Built infrastructure is often a critical element of water service delivery or water resource management, but may also undermine natural infrastructure if not carefully designed. Investing in natural infrastructure at the same time as built infrastructure can make the built infrastructure less expensive and more sustainable – i.e. reducing sedimentation (and therefore the scale of storage needed) through restoration of watersheds around a dam.

Data on water resources and environmental health is inadequate

This makes it very difficult to manage the resource or estimate the economic costs and benefits of different services and investment possibilities.


  1. Encourage (and commit) to scaling up wastewater treatment and pollution control in order to safeguard water quality.
  2. Encourage upstream investments that, through supporting system-scale early planning, provide support to countries in identifying complimentary “grey” and “green” water infrastructure programs. These will provide cost-effective and sustainable investments that will also balance development objectives with environmental and social priorities.
  3. Encourage the implementation of a global research and solutions program to couple the benefits of built infrastructure systems (grey infrastructure) with the benefits of natural infrastructure provided by the environment (green infrastructure) for improved water security.
  4. Endorse actions and research by countries and other actors in advancing the under- standing and integration of enhanced water allocation towards sustainable environmental outcomes (e.g. wetlands restoration, biodiversity, environmental flows). This may evolve into a lighthouse initiative.

VI. Infrastructure and investments


A growing infrastructure challenge

The infrastructure necessary to manage water resources and provide water services is of vital importance. Yet in countries at all stages of development investment in water infrastructure is insufficient. Women and the world’s most vulnerable populations need these infrastructural investments. Securing water for multiple uses is critical for social and economic development, providing employment and a platform for social economic well-being. In an era of growing climatic uncertainty, there not enough being done to maintain and replace existing infrastructure, nor create the new infrastructure needed to support growing future requirements.

The underlying problem

Water is a neglected sector of infrastructure: it does not enjoy great political support. Water infrastructure is costly and requires extensive planning. Water service charges are often too low to recoup investment costs, which makes it unattractive to commercial financiers or operators.

Yet financing opportunities are opening up: borrowing costs are at historic lows; a growing chorus of influential voices are arguing in favour of government borrowing for infrastructure development. A globally coordinated effort of infrastructure investment could provide a major boost to global development, but this needs to be combined with improved approaches to recover capital investments and costs of operations and maintenance.

Large and growing costs

Water, sanitation and hygiene, are expected to require a level of capital expenditure roughly three times the current level. Investments needs in bulk water supply and treatment, in overcoming the huge deficit in wastewater infrastructure, flood management, irrigation, hydropower, etc. will be huge. The global cost of required new investments in water infrastructure 2013-2030 has been estimated at US$11.7 trillion, with an annual average of US$650 billion.

Making the most out of the investment

Infrastructure planning needs to evolve to fit new requirements forced by climate change, greater planning constraints, water extremes and conflict over resources, and a growing recognition of the complementarity between built (grey) and natural (green) infrastructure. Inclusive and gender sensitive project design will strengthen sustainability. Adequate funding for infrastructure management and maintenance is needed to ensure investment efficiency in the long term.


  1. Encourage national leaders to commit to greater investment in water infrastructure.
  2. Encourage multilateral development banks and other financiers to make funds available to support countries through inclusive and gender sensitive upstream planning and project formulation in particular for the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS which are exposed to risks and inherent vulnerabilities.
  3. Initiate a stock take and recommendations on financing opportunities, including innovative and newly emerging mechanisms, for water infrastructure. The stock take should address constraints to countries accessing finance.
  4. Encourage a significant allocation of climate finance to be used towards water resilient infrastructure and services, including the Green Climate Fund, given the proven links between climate change and risks to water security.
  5. Use lighthouse initiative to recruit and encourage new approaches for preparing bankable, resilient, and sustainable water infrastructure projects. This should include
  • i) new design processes that deal with uncertainty,
  • ii) a comprehensive approach to cost benefit analysis which recognizes co-benefits such as for health and environment,
  • iii) improve financial viability, and
  • iv) reducing investment risks through investing more in upstream planning, maintenance and risk reduction.

VII. Water Governance


Water crises are usually governance crises

Technical solutions are often known but the challenge is translating that into “who does what, at which level, and how”. Solutions without functional institutions will not be sustainable, e.g. 30-50% of water supply projects in developing countries breakdown within 2-5 years. While the basin is a key scale for managing water, around 60% of the world’s basins have no agreements governing them.

Water governance is inherently complex

It has a plethora of stakeholders across multiple sectors, with hydrological and (local and national) administrative boundaries that often differ, plus the data is often incomplete and it is a highly capital-intensive and monopolistic sector with important market failures. Gender equality in water governance at local and regional level has on the whole been weak.

Water governance requires a multi-level approach

It may require filling multiple gaps (see OECD framework):

  • Objective gaps: Aligning objectives, diverging interests and priorities to foster synergies and complementarities at the right scale, as well as overcoming policy discontinuity and vested interests
  • Policy gaps: Dealing with institutional and territorial fragmentation of water policy across multiple parts of government and identifying incentives for effective coordination
  • Gender and disability gaps: Inclusive and gender sensitive policies and investments are essential to achieve SDG 6 and SDG 5.
  • Administrative gaps: Reconciling administrative and hydrological boundaries to manage water resources and supply water services at the relevant scale
  • Capacity gaps: Securing hard (infrastructure) and soft (expertise) capacity at central & sub-national level
  • Information gaps: Developing physical, socio-economic, financial & institutional data to guide decisions
  • Funding gaps: Addressing any funding mismatch between the responsibilities of different actors and resources available to carry them
  • Accountability gaps: Fostering account- ability mechanisms to engage stakeholders and protect consumers through inclusive and transparent decision making

Numerous tools and approaches exist – but political leadership is needed

Since water governance requires a “whole of society approach” and coordinated action at the local, national and (often) international levels, it requires political leadership to design and implement water governance systems.


  1. Encourage development of key principles for undertaking best practice integrated water resource planning, including gender and disability analysis, to inform decisions about water allocation and investment.
  2. Endorse/promote such agreements and instruments that are likely to help with water governance and transboundary issues (such as OECD principles).
  3. Encourage constructive dialogue by all stakeholders in shared water resources, including transboundary water and promote peaceful cooperation across countries.
  4. Encourage research and analysis effort to better understand the role of water in conflict, mass migration, and other key social challenges to inform better decision making.

VIII. Water Data


Good water resource management and service delivery requires good data

Data is required to build a shared understanding of water challenges at local, national and regional levels – in particular the key vulnerabilities, interdependencies, and opportunities associated with water.

Good data means data that is a) meaningful, b) high quality, c) timely, d) continuous, and e) at relevant scale

  • Water related services, including water supply, sanitation, irrigation and wastewater management, can all be directly measured, but can still present significant data challenges – from installing household level metering to measuring non-revenue water losses to distributed water quality measurement.
  • Water resources can be particularly difficult to measure given that water may be on the surface, underground, or in soil moisture, or in the form of liquid, vapor, snow or ice.

The last few decades has seen rapid growth in satellite based data but in situ measurement of water resources are in decline globally

Groundwater data is particularly lacking given the difficulty of measuring it. Global hydrological models are being used to simulate water systems, but are highly dependent on the quality of data – including in situ data to validate model estimates.

Earth observation techniques are being used to monitor global forest coverage on a daily basis – water resource measurement needs to catch up

High resolution satellite data and other analytic methods could provide daily water flow snapshots globally. Some dimensions of water quality can also be monitored through similar techniques.

Water measurement techniques need to become more standardized

Standardized data can be created through common and proven methods, be shared more easily, provide comparisons, and simplify both national and global investments. The SDG monitoring process is providing a foundation for more standardized (and thus comparable) water data through UN Water’s Integrated Monitoring Initiate (GEMI).


  1. Initiate a strong political message on the critical importance of water data to effectively address water problems.
  2. Encourage UN Water and other stakeholders to work towards defining a more integrated and standardized set of core water accounts  and indicators – covering the core physical, economic, environmental and social issues, including gender and disability – that would enable governments, private sector and civil society to diagnose their challenges, set priorities, and guide their implementation efforts.
  3. Encourage institutions and platforms to create a level playing field for the analysis and application of earth observation data.
  4. Initiate a grand challenge process to unlock Water Data Innovation to improve the aggregation, integration, communication and application of water-related data.
  5. Encourage interested stakeholders to develop better communication approaches in order to increase public and political understanding of water issues, such as through a global water atlas and a global water education campaign.
  6. Encourage the international community to collect consistent and continuous gender disaggregated data on water-related disasters that will assist the development of indicators, and enable governments to set priorities, engage citizens in an inclusive way, and measure progress.

IX. Valuing Water


Water is a common-pool resource,

making it vulnerable to the related risks of overuse and pollution.

Water has distinct social, economic and environmental value

Water is central to human life and dignity; required for food, energy, manufacturing, and other economic activities; and required by the environment.

Making value more transparent

Every time someone uses water or chooses not to, they are placing an implicit value on water. Making value explicit helps decisions and trade-offs about water get made in a more transparent and better-informed manner – clarifying vested interests and enabling equity and sustainability to be addressed. Analyzing the different needs of men, women and marginalized groups in the community will add to transparency.

Conceptual clarity and common principles

There is a need for conceptual clarity and common principles to address the related and often controversial issues of allocating, valuing, pricing and trading water.

  • Allocating water is required to manage trade-offs between uses, users and sources of water, particularly when scarce. To allocate water effectively, efficiently and equitably, its varying values must be understood. Allocation can be done administratively or though pricing and markets – usually a combination of both.
  • Valuing water should be based on the social, environmental and economic benefits derived from water use. Water is far more economically valuable when used in computer chip manufacturing than in a fountain, and far more valuable when used for drinking and personal hygiene than for watering lawns. The value of water should inform the pricing of water.
  • Pricing water helps to create incentives to use water wisely or efficiently, to recover costs for operating and maintaining services, and to establish the costs and benefits of further investment in water infrastructure or services. Pricing pollution creates incentives to reduce or eliminate releasing pollutants into water.
  • Trading water allocations or rights is one method to reveal the value of water across uses, and encourages water to flow to its highest economic value use through voluntary trade. The absolute amount of water for trading is capped, and allocations to social and environmental uses are made outside this cap.

Water governance, data and valuation are closely related and usually mutually reinforcing.


  1. Encourage friends of the panel to convene a multi-stakeholder process, informed by research and evidence, that distills a set of core principles and new methodology for valuing water, building on the human right to water and sanitation.
  2. The Panel, considering the suggested core principles, will articulate a narrative on valuing water, placing valuing water within the broader context of improved water governance and the SDG’s.
  3. Encourage development partners to establish a lighthouse initiative that will support countries willing to implement improved and inclusive policies, institutions, and approaches for valuing water.
  4. The panel encourages all stakeholders to support improved approaches to valuing water with case studies, gender analysis, capacity building, and advocacy, including a clear focus on ensuring the human right to water and sanitation.
  5. The Panel will encourage a multi-stakeholder Valuing Water Leaders Coalition or similar initiative to continue improving global practices on valuing water after the HLPW has completed its mandate.

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