MOOC: Auditing Water Management

2.3. Sustainable development goals and water

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. Therefore, clean water and sanitation as well as sustainable use of marine water resources are separate sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Water is the main topic of two SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations (UN) Member States in September 2015:

SDG 6, ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’, addresses the sustainability of water and sanitation access by looking at its availability and sustainable management. Its targets take the entire water cycle and its interconnections into account.


  • 6.1 – By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • 6.2 – 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
  • 6.3 – 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
  • 6.4 – 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
  • 6.5 – By 2030, implement integrated water resource management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
  • 6.6 – By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
  • 6.A – 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
  • 6.B – Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

SDG 14, ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’ addresses the negative impacts of climate change, overfishing and marine pollution.


  • 14.1 – By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
  • 14.2 – By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
  • 14.3 – Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
  • 14.4 – By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
  • 14.5 – By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
  • 14.6 – By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation
  • 14.7 – By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
  • 14.A – Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
  • 14.B – Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
  • 14.C – Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want

All targets have indicators for evaluating the progress achieved. However, the targets and indicators were developed as a result of compromise and they fail to cover all aspects of SDGs. Nevertheless, these indicators may still serve as criteria in audits.

Water-related problems and development goals have also been established under several other SDGs: SDG 3 on good health and well-being (reduction of water-borne diseases and deaths from water pollution and contamination), SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities (reduction of water-related disasters), SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production (reduction of the release of chemicals to water), SDG 15 on life on land (conservation and restoration of freshwater ecosystems).

See more at See also the MOOC ‘Introduction to Environmental Auditing in the Public Sector’  sustainable development.

info_new.pngTip for auditors

You may focus the audit on sustainable use of water and ask:

    • Does the government collect data on water use?
    • Are there measures for saving water?
    • Has the government reached the targets of SDG 6?
    • Does the government evaluate the progress of achieving the SDGs?


When auditing water issues you need to consider all three sustainability pillars: environmental, social and economic sustainability. Read the topics below and select the pillar under which they fall. You can select more than one option.


Which Sustainable Development Goal related to water is the most relevant one to your country? What about the concrete targets of SDGs 6 and 14?