Innovation and IWRM in Central American communities

Civil Engineer Axel Martinez, 26, from Nicaragua, spent five months as a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under GWP’s Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP)He worked in GWP Central America’s regional office from August to December 2018. In this blog post, he shares reflections on his activities. 


Central America is a narrow strip that unites the two great Americas. Despite its small size, it is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, dreamlike landscapes, happy people, diverse cultures, and abundant natural resources – especially water resources. However, it is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world to climate change. To address that challenge it is crucial to implement the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach. GWP Central America is working to promote IWRM and strengthen local capacities in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

I was fortunate to be selected as an intern for WACDEP’s Young Professional Development Initiative. As part of the internship I had the opportunity to travel through the region and work with experienced professionals, as well as young professionals, who like me, work every day for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6): Clean water and sanitation for all – with the important pledge of leaving no one behind.

I was tasked to document success stories in the implementation of IWRM in WACDEP pilot projects, and write case studies. The stories had to include the different points of view of the actors involved in the project, as well as their lessons learned – the knowledge they considered useful and valuable for successful interventions.

Central American extremes

The effects of climate change in Central America are reflected in more intense, recurrent, and prolonged hydro-meteorological phenomena that are manifested in two extremes of the same spectrum: floods and drought. Other variables such as rapid environmental degradation, lack of territorial ordering, institutional weaknesses, a polarized political scenario or lack of resilient infrastructure make this challenge more complex.

My investigations focused on the Central American “Dry Corridor” and Panama’s Arco Seco (dry region). The drought, boosted by “El Niño” – the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon – put the region in jeopardy, causing severe damage to the agriculture, hydropower, and WASH sectors. The drought put the water and food security of a large part of the population at risk, especially of dispersed rural communities that, due to the nature of their condition, do not have the means to face extreme situations of this type. These were the communities that the pilot projects were for. While the common challenge faced by these communities was drought, innovation was the common response. GWP Central America articulated the efforts of its members and connected them to benefit the communities, by bringing dispersed sectors together.

In places where water services are not available, rainwater harvesting systems have been an effective alternative. In Honduras, a geomembrane storage technology was developed that reduces costs by 75% versus other methods such as plastic tanks. GWP Central America saw the opportunity to extend the technology to the rest of the countries in the region, and to implement IWRM and a gender approach.

In a youth-led project in El Salvador, women were trained to implement the systems, thus enhancing their role in community decision-making and demonstrating that equality in community water management is possible. This project included other actors: the national government, municipality, private sector and international cooperation. The young professional who led this project put this solution on the global map, winning funds at an international level. The project will go on to a second phase in El Salvador. And today this technology is offered in the regional market and the Honduran government is interested in adopting it into public policy in response to droughts.

In Panama, innovation was also key, but this time through clean and renewable energy for the extraction of water in a community of “Arco Seco”. They used a pump powered by wind energy. The academic sector led the project – the Technical University of Panama (UTP) coordinated, with the support of the central government, for the necessary studies and the community gave on-site support. It is noteworthy that the students were fully committed to the project and were able to put their skills into practice at the service of their local context in an investigation that continues to look for ways to improve future projects. The initiative is also an example of solutions focused on the Water-Energy-Food nexus. It was awarded the UTP “Cuásar Prize” of Social Innovation.

During the internship, Alex also supported GWP Central America in preparing for a regional SDG6 event, workshops on incorporating IWRM in risk management planning, and in integrated drought management, as well as youth events. Alex also highlights the work of volunteers of the Central American Youth Water Network for Water, and community-based water management organisations that work every day to conserve the world’s resources. A Spanish version of Alex’ blog is available on the GWP Central America website.

Posted in Climate change, Drought, Floods, Gender, GWP, IWRM, Partnership, SDGs, Youth | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Empowering communities on implementing IWRM in South Asia

By Paridhi Rustogi, a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under Global Water Partnership’s flagship Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP). Paridhi was an intern with the GWP South Asia (GWP SAS) Regional Office from September 2017 to July 2018, working on developing knowledge products and capturing success stories from the region. These are her reflections.


Faced with a rapidly changing climate regime and severe environmental challenges, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is being championed by rural communities across South Asia. By consolidating resources – natural and economic – communities are able to fortify their water resilience and as a result augment their food and water security. These efforts are strengthened and led by the GWP SAS  Regional Office, which operates through six Country Water Partnerships based in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

As a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under GWP’s WACDEP, I explored South Asia’s water resources and vulnerabilities in-depth and captured success stories through case studies that explored implementation of IWRM at the grassroots and watershed level.

Population growth and an unwavering dependence of agriculture on rainfall necessitates interventions that safeguard access to quality water resources even in periods of lean rainfall. Access to water in southern states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu was accomplished by GWP India and the DHAN Foundation through reviving traditional water harvesting structures with the support of rural communities who contributed in cash and provision of labour services. In targeted communities, Water User Associations (WUA) and Farmer’s Federations – Vayalagams – have actively managed small-irrigation schemes; by providing them ownership, projects costs reduced and programme efficiency increased by fostering stakeholder engagement.

However, rising temperatures and torrential rainfall – manifestations of climate change – threaten to stall progress that is already delayed in most parts of South Asia, bringing adaptation activities to the forefront. In Pakistan’s desert areas of Tharparkar and Cholistan, a severe drought has hindered the livelihoods of local residents. GWP Pakistan’s solution was to provide aid, capacity development opportunities like soap manufacturing and garden kitchen concepts, and to reinvigorate local ponds and wells to support cattle rearing. This desert development approach relied on community-based water supply and management. Community members were handed over the management of village ponds, nurseries and wells.

Guided by national policies pertaining to climate change adaptation, GWP Pakistan’s interventions aimed to bridge the gap in the practical application of existing policies. Using both a top-down and bottom-up approach by enabling Training of Trainers (ToTs) at the village level, community participation was encouraged. IWRM was used as a guiding policy and local authorities were involved in decision-making and project implementation.

Reeling from the damage of a large landslide in central Sri Lanka, GWP Sri Lanka expanded its work in the Ma Oya basin by engaging local community members in rehabilitation work and awareness raising on climate change adaptation. The complexity of this disaster highlighted the need for speedily operationalizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in future activities and highlighted a decided shift from disaster relief to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Engaging with the community helped identify the most important form of DRR – a model that involves and is supported by local communities, particularly women.

One of the key activities was raising awareness among schoolchildren on water and sanitation and providing rainwater-harvesting tanks to store water to fulfil the daily needs of the school. By enabling regular access to water, female student enrolment improved, leading to a step in the right direction for active student engagement. Students can be the most important conduit of DRR information in their communities. Emphasis was laid on creating a connection between children and their environments.

While Pakistan’s deserts suffer from droughts and Sri Lanka’s Central province from poor water management, in Bhutan, despite plentiful water resources, uneven spatial and temporal distribution of water bodies makes them hard to access. This limits the growth opportunities of farmers in the Lingmutey-chu Basin who struggle to tap sufficient water for successful irrigation. Implemented by GWP Bhutan, the Bajo Siphon project best demonstrates a successful low-investment climate adaptation initiative.

Conflict management to pacify various stakeholders was a key part of cultivating access to siphon irrigation for farmer communities. By improving access of affected parties to irrigation water, mutually beneficial arrangements were set up. Public authority had a key role to play in this process of providing water supply and sanitation services while it was the community members had to maintain and reap its benefits. The success of the Bajo project has improved the livelihoods of local farmers through a simple application of technology. This project also demonstrated the successful collaborative efforts between the community, government, and non-governmental agencies.

GWP’s IWRM ToolBox identifies the various tools that can be used to carry out successful IWRM in the field and greatly influenced the thought process behind these interventions. By connecting communities to IWRM resources and capacity building, fruitful solutions to withstand climate change and rising environmental pressures can be sought. South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population provides a neutral platform for water and climate development initiatives. GWP South Asia’s work in the field has created significant lasting contributions in the lives of targeted communities.

Posted in GWP, Partnership | Leave a comment

The SDG Knowledge Hub: Communications for SDG Action

GWP Central America (GWP CAM) recently worked with journalists to highlight the importance of communications around the landmark 2030 Development Agenda and, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals. GWP CAM invited IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub to submit an article to an issue of Entre Aguas that focused on this subject. It is written by Lauren Anderson, Writer/ Editor, SDG Knowledge Hub.


In 2015, the global policy community adopted the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its roadmap for sustainable development. The Agenda is wide ranging, with 169 targets spanning interlinked objectives related to the social, economic, and environmental prosperity of the world’s people.

Since the Agenda’s inception, stakeholders have stressed that development gains can’t be made in isolation. There has been an emphasis on understanding how the SDGs interrelate, and how multiple development objectives can be achieved in tandem; as well as how to avoid a zero-sum game, where one Goal is achieved at the expense of another. For instance, the ‘Synthesis Reports’ on water and urbanization just released for the July 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) highlight how achieving objectives on water and sanitation (SDG 6) and on sustainable cities (SDG 11), respectively, requires and spurs progress on multiple other SDGs. The reports offer the joint position of relevant UN agencies, which ask for their respective issues to be treated as cross-cutting.  This means they should be considered in every possible facet of policy making and implementation.

Yet, given the historically fragmented approach to sustainable development – by the UN with its separate agencies, by the Member States with their separate treaties, by national governments with their separate ministries, and by numerous other stakeholders – the need to now capitalize on linkages, to mainstream issues across and within sectors, and to take the broad-based approach the SDGs demand – presents an enormous challenge. Think of a government ministry on agriculture suddenly tasked with water conservation priorities. Or a UN agency addressing conflict incorporating biodiversity conservation into its agenda.

These are not small jumps to make, but make them we must if we are to achieve the SDGs as they are intended – all of them together, with no one left behind. To do this, we have to knock down the color-coded towers and rebuild rainbow style. We have to share, and we have to exchange. We have to communicate.

The SDG Knowledge Hub

This is where platforms like the SDG Knowledge Hub have an important role to play. The Hub, managed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), reports across the continuum of SDG implementation. It is a virtual space that tracks and analyses progress on the SDGs, so stakeholders can gain an understanding of the linkages between the Goals as well as the policy and processes that influence their implementation. The Hub does this through weekly SDG Updates that feature news written by policy experts as well as commentary authored by experts external to our organization. We strive for fact-based reporting that keeps the pulse on the development agenda, its influencers and its implementors.

It is this well of knowledge, which spans the Goals and the globe, that supports implementation of the development agenda. Sound reporting – on who is doing what and why to achieve the SDGs – provides stakeholders the ability to traverse the Goals; to see what is working as well as what is needed. We’re knocking down the silos, and we are handing out bricks of knowledge in every color to our readers. By doing so, we are bringing the development community closer and encouraging collective responses to vast global challenges.

The SDG’s resounding and primary objective is “no one left behind.” In the context of what we do, this means assuring transparency. Achieving 17 Goals with 169 targets by 2030 is a mammoth undertaking, and no single entity has the capacity to follow everything that is unfolding. This is where transparency is compromised. For instance: governments may lack the resources to place delegates in every negotiating room of a Climate or Biodiversity Summit, but they need to know what is happening. Similarly, civil society organizations may not have the staff to patrol the numerous side-events launching research results and initiatives, but they need to be apprised of outcomes. And many others – with varying roles and responsibilities – need to know, so they are not “left behind.”

The SDG Knowledge Hub helps to address this challenge by lifting the veil on international policy fora and bringing our readers a synopsis of the initiatives, events and outcomes that are influencing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Our contribution to leaving no one behind is assuring that anyone, regardless of their location or status, can get the best information possible on the development issues that affect them.

We believe our approach is working, as stakeholders have told us that the SDG Knowledge Hub has inspired them to act. In one instance, our example led to the establishment of a regional knowledge hub for agriculture, food security and natural resources. Others have used our reporting to find new stakeholders working within their field of practice and taken a more interdisciplinary approach as a result of the Hub. This is evidence that communications beget action.

Communications also drive behavior change, and this is critical when it comes to progress on the Goals. Many of the SDGs, if not all of them, require each of us to think and act differently – to stop using single-use plastics, to stop buying illegal wildlife products, to stop wasting food, to seek peaceful resolutions to conflict, and so on and so forth. The success of the 2030 Agenda depends on all of us making better choices, and sound communications can arm people with the information to act and the will to change. Just look to initiatives like the #CleanSeas campaign to stop marine plastic pollution, the #WildforLife  campaign, which addresses consumer demand for ivory that fuels elephant poaching, and the Eat.Think.Save campaign, which tackles food waste. Each of these raises awareness and encourages people to make small changes that have big impacts.

In this regard, the SDG Knowledge Hub is one more foot soldier on the ground, helping to spread the word, through our two-million+ page views per year, our calendar of events, and through our social media engagement. While we will never know the true reach and impact of the Hub, we will keep working towards the knowledge provision, transparency and communications on which, we believe, achievement of the SDGs depends.

The SDG Knowledge Hub is indebted to our contributors, our readers, and our funders – the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). For more information please visit or follow us @IISD_SDGs.

Posted in SDGs | Leave a comment

Setting a goal is just the beginning: Improving measurability of the SDG indicators

By Elizabeth Frödén, Masters Student in Hydrology, Hydrogeology, and Water Resources, Stockholm University. Elizabeth was an intern with GWP from April to June 2018, working with the knowledge management and communications departments.


When the UN first introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, they were met with both enthusiasm and scepticism. The 17 ambitious goals aim to be achieved by 2030, but how is their progress being tracked along the way? This topic will be discussed in the context of the UN SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation at the upcoming High-Level Political Forum, which runs from the 9th to the 18th of July in New York.

Although the 17 goals are quite broad, they are broken down into a total of 169 specific targets. Each of these targets are measured with 1-3 indicators, and these are the key to measuring the success of the SDGs as the world moves towards 2030; however, not all indicators are created equal. Some are clearer than others, and to show that, the UN has three tiers for classifying their indicators:

  • Tier I: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.
  • Tier II: Indicator is not conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.
  • Tier III: No internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested.

Tier III indicators are a point of concern. Without the proper ability to track the status and progress of the targets, it is not possible to see if the world is on track with the SDGs. The indicators are critical in determining where work needs to be done.

There are Tier III indicators amongst all the 17 goals, including in SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. The water-related Tier III indicators are:

  • 3.2: Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality
  • 6.1: Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time

The challenge in assessing 6.3.2 is primarily that nation-wide, regularly tracked water quality data is institutionally and financially challenging for some countries, making the base data required to track water quality limited. One method of improving this is to highlight well-established monitoring systems as examples for countries lack adequate databases, as is noted in the UN synthesis report.

6.6.1 presents a similar challenge, in that it aims to measure a trend over time. With limited historical data, it is difficult to establish a trend for all countries. The next step for improvement, as described in the UN synthesis report, is to improve global data on the extent of water bodies and on certain water quality parameters (turbidity and chlorophyll-a).

Luckily, work is already being done to improve these and other Tier III indicators. With a few exceptions, the Tier III indicators have workplans in place, elaborating the process of moving them up in the tier system and therefore making the status and progress of their associated targets easier to measure.

According to their work plans, efforts to improve indicators 6.3.2 and 6.6.1 are in motion. The main takeaway from indicator 6.3.2’s workplan is that there is a clear methodology for its assessment in place, and that it is expected to be moved to Tier II. For 6.6.1 the emphasis is on efforts to make measurements more universally understood and standardized.

It has already been successfully demonstrated that improving the indicators is possible. Indicator 6.5.2: proportion of transboundary waters with an operational agreement, was originally classified as Tier III and has since been reclassified as Tier II. This improvement is of particular interest to GWP. For example, GWP focused its Technical Background Paper 23, Measuring transboundary water cooperation: options for Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.5, on the methodology of measuring 6.5.2, thereby increasing access to standardized methods. GWP has also incorporated the methodology of 6.5.2 in its Water Governance and International Water Law training in Africa, which takes place annually from 2015-2020 in Uganda, including the 2018 session which was just conducted from the 25th to 27th of June.

The continued improvement of Tier III indicators is critical for moving forward. In the UN report on SDG6, it is emphasized that the world is not on track to reach its water and sanitation targets by 2030. However, there is time to make a change. The work being done to improve the indicators may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it is with gradual, bottom-up improvements that the world will be able to get back on track and ensure clean water and proper sanitation for everyone.

GWP will be at the High Level Political Forum (#HLPF2018) from 9 to 18 July.

Posted in Development, GWP, SDGs, United Nations, Water Cooperation, Water resources management | Leave a comment

Making water and life simple to understand

Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, former Senior Knowledge Management Officer at Global Water Partnership, reviews a recently-published book about… what else? Water!


As a former senior knowledge management officer in a top water organization, I believed that one couldn’t say anything really new about water. World leaders chant that without water there is no life and without good management of water resources further development of humanity is impossible.

And yet the World Economic Forum has continuously rated “water crises” as one of the top global risk since 2012. So, where are we making mistakes in addressing water problems?

Let’s start from the beginning: education. Water is easy to teach at schools – children water flowers which then grow and green. As children grow older, they learn about the simple H2O formula, biology brings examples about how living organisms need water, and geography is full of studying springs, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

But water education after that is more difficult. It takes a long time before an engineer is competent to design a waste water treatment plant or a multi-functional water reservoir. It requires many specialists to understand and apply hydrological laws to movement, distribution, and the quality of water. Things get complicated as water is not only a physical medium, but has a social and economic dimension. Thus, good management of water resources relies on specialists in the behavioral sciences such as economics, public health, demography, and political science. Yet, we must start somewhere…

One way is to read Practical Hydraulics and Water Resources Engineering by Melvyn Kay (full disclosure: we are former colleagues). The book was published in its third edition by CRC Press in 2017. Although it is primarily for engineers, it brings real life examples. We all know that a cork floats and a piece of steel sinks. What is behind that? When a domestic water tap is turned off quickly, why is there sometimes a loud banging noise in the pipe? Where is the best site for abstracting water from a river for irrigation?

As the author points out … “developing a qualitative understanding of hydraulics and solving problems mathematically are two different skills.” From Archimedes’ principle of choosing the right kind of pump to a stone-skipping experiment to the design of dams – this can all be understood without deep mathematical equations that frustrate “non-engineers.” The book also has extra chapters about water resources engineering and water resources planning and management.

At the end of the book, the chapter “Water Myths” makes us think about a naïve perception that an increase in water use efficiency saves water. Many global organizations and national regulators push for measures to invest in “saving water appliances” when irrigating the fields. In practice, each drop of water saved is used to expand agriculture production rather than to leave the water to the ecosystem. Also, an increase in water use efficiency tends to be accompanied by a decrease in the volume of water available to downstream users and the environment. Thus, water basin managers should not be interested in individual farms but focus as a whole on farmer groups along a river or basin.

By the way, we know that the vortex goes in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere. What about demonstrating this experiment on the equator in Kenya? This book will encourage you to experience some of those “Eureka!” moments to find how the science of hydraulics works.

Posted in IWRM, Water resources management | 1 Comment

What does global progress look like?

By Gemma Gasseau, Master Student in Global Political Economy, Stockholm University. Gemma was an intern with GWP between April and June 2018, focusing on knowledge management.


What does global progress look like? You now have the chance to find out, at least as it concerns water: “The world is not on track”[1]. However, there is still time to catch up, so the time to act is now. By using the enabling tools illustrated below, it is possible to improve water security, and in this way to affect positively all the other goals.

This information is outlined in the report that the UN has drafted on the global status of SDG 6 (the water goal) and its six targets: The Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation. The Global Water Partnership (GWP) worked with UN Environment to provide baseline data for the report. The report will inform the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (which will be held in July 2018). The HLPF reviews, yearly, the 2030 Agenda, and this year there is a focus on SDG6.

The first part of the report presents an overview of the status of the targets, making use of the latest data for the 11 global indicators associated.

  • Did you know that 844 million people still lack even a basic water service and 2.1 billion people lack safely managed drinking water? The first target, safe and affordable drinking water for all, is described as a huge challenge.
  • Equally, target two, on sanitation and open defecation, is defined as a major challenge: 4.5 billion people worldwide lack a safely managed sanitation service in 2015. In the Least Developed Countries only 27 per cent had basic handwashing facilities, and some 892 million still practice open defecation.
  • One of the challenges related to target three, concerning water quality and wastewater, is to collect reliable data on water quality, as many countries do not have the capacity to provide a full assessment.
  • Concerning target four on water efficiency, the report states that more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress: here, innovation in agriculture, the largest water consumer by far, can play a key role in improving efficiency.
  • The average degree of implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) at the national and transboundary level, target five, was 48 per cent (medium-low). However, IWRM must be a priority as it is “the most comprehensive step that countries can make towards achieving SDG6.” The report acknowledges the key role GWP has had in analyzing successes and failures and learning lessons. On GWP’s website, there is the IWRM Toolbox and practical case studies.
  • The link between water-related ecosystems protection and restoration (target six) and water security is underlined in the report which cites a GWP perspective paper: Linking ecosystem services and water security – SDGs offer a new opportunity for integration. However, data are still insufficient to measure the progress of this target.
  • Target 6a concerns international cooperation and capacity building and is crucial for all the other targets since it addresses finances; also for this target, the data are still insufficient to assess progress and better indicators need to be developed.
  • Target 6b is stakeholder participation, with emphasis on the participation of local communities. The report states that levels of participation remain comparatively low, even if better monitoring must be developed since the indicator only considers quantitative data on participation and neglects the qualitative aspect of it.

Then, the report provides interlinked recommendations for enabling and accelerating progress on the targets: strengthening global partnerships; implementing IWRM; improving transboundary cooperation and eliminating inequalities. As means of implementation, finance, capacity development, data monitoring, and good governance are equally important. Indeed, the report quotes GWP in saying that the “water crisis is mainly a crisis of governance” (Towards Water Security: A Framework for Action).

Finally, the report explores the connection between water and other goals. In fact, a coordinated and integrated approach to 2030 agenda is essential. Water is central for progress on the three fundamental levels on which the SDGs are built: social (as a basic human right), economic (as necessary for any productive activity), environmental (as a part of ecosystems). Therefore, the report illustrates and explores key connections of Goal 6 to other goals. Among the others, economic growth, environment, and climate change are listed. In this regard, the report cites two GWP knowledge products: Securing water, sustaining growth (with the OECD) and Benefits of Action and Costs of Inaction: Drought Mitigation and Preparedness – a Literature Review (with the WMO).

Does all that sound interesting to you? Do you think we can improve the way we monitor global progress?

If so, then Join the Conversation here!

A public dialogue has been launched from May to September 2018 to discuss the findings of the Synthesis Report in a multi-stakeholder setting. The overall feedback has been collected, and you now have the opportunity to discuss the main messages coming from the report and the way forward.

[1]  UN water, The Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report 2018, Highlights

Posted in SDGs | Leave a comment

Waste (water) is a she

This blog post is written by Lesha Witmer, Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) – it is part 2 of an on-going conversation that will be followed up during a one-day seminar “Understanding the Gender Dimension of Water and Waste” on 27 August at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. The seminar is co-convened by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), GWP, WaterAid, WfWP and SaciWATERS. In addition, the issue will be debated on August 28, during the event “Is wastewater a She? Linking SDG 6.3 (wastewater) and SDG 5 (gender)”.


For the first time ever, with the adoption especially of SDG Target 6.3 ( “by 2030, …, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”) water quality issues such as waste water (treatment and re-use of used water) has come to the attention of a broader public. Wastewater is not on top of the list when people talk about gender issues and water. But is wastewater gender neutral (as some key players seem to think)?

Women are more affected by the lack of wastewater treatment and responsible management than men. This ranges through all dimensions of sustainable development, both in the developing and developed world.

Women for a start are far more in contact with food and direct contact with feaces (child-care; health-care personally, domestically and professionally). The risk of contamination, when sanitation is not separated from human contact (and even more so if hand-washing facilities, soap, are missing) is very high.

In a lot of big cities around the world waste collection by the local government is missing; most of the time it is local women’s organisations that take the initiative to do so with very little or no support (or even respect). However, their work prevents even more contamination of (ground) water and contamination risks.

Cleaning and emptying toilets is most of the time (unpaid) women’s work. Although some interesting initiatives have been set-up, transferring this into structured, paid jobs in cities in the developing world, then the other “old” issue turns up: they get paid less for this work than their male counterparts (if any).

One of the problems/concerns is the still growing amount of pesticides, hormones, medication, and chemicals in waste water. This can have very nasty longer term effect on the health of people especially women (both older (osteoporosis) and pregnant (blue babies, miscarriages)). This may become an even bigger issue when considering reuse of used water e.g. for agricultural purposes, exposing again mainly women working in agricultural (70%) and affecting food security (when not done expertly).

UNESCO-WWAP and the gender-taskforce proposed the following indicators:

  • Percentage of households connected to sewerage or alternative means of water treatment (6.3);
  • Percentages reported health-incidents/ impacts disaggregated by sex;
  • Percentages of M/F in charge of waste and waste-water management.

It would be interesting to see if, when data on the proposed indicator are collected, there is a gender gap again – most likely so. Common knowledge indicates that especially female-headed households are not connected.

Waste (water) a gender and women’s issue? Absolutely. Needed: More sex-disaggregated data also on this issue, research on solutions for treatment, more women working in the sector, more respect and payment for the women who take over. Come and join us and discuss more ideas, solutions.

This blog is also published on the WfWP website.

Posted in Gender, GWP, Partnership, SDGs, Sustainable Development, Water Pollution, Water resources management, Water security, World Water Week | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can we become more gender equal and inclusive? Water perspectives

Have you ever thought about how good water management can build more equal societies? GWP Programme Assistant Ankur Gupta writes about key areas to work on in order to increase gender equality and inclusion within water governance and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) policies, strategies, and access to services throughout the world. This is part of an on-going conversation that will continue over social media, and followed up during a one-day seminar, “Understanding the Gender Dimension of Water and Waste” on Aug 27 at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. The seminar is co-convened by UNEP, GWP, World Bank, WaterAid, WfWP, and SaciWATERS. 


Photo: Cleaning Thimphu River on World Water Day 2017, GWP Bhutan

In September 2015, with the landmark adoption of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), global leaders placed inclusiveness at the heart of the agenda. We focus here particularly on the interlinkages between SDG 5, which is on gender equality and empowering all women and girls, and SDG 6, on water and sanitation. Gender includes the full spectrum of identities including women and girls, men and boys, transgender, intersex, and non-binary genders. This blog focuses on women as a key group that are gender discriminated but also a source of powerful action. The SDGs provide a global framework and principles that are required to achieve more equality and it is imperative that all actions follow the SDGs.

From Rio and Dublin principles in 1992 to the SDGs, there has been a lot of effort made at global, regional, and national levels. Today, more women are involved in water management and governance than before (Between 1995 and 2015, the gender gap in employment decreased only by 0.6%, Women at Work, ILO 2016) so there is still a lot that needs to be done.

One of the key words that is consistently used is “empowerment”, but what does it mean? Longwe in 1991 developed a ‘Women’s Empowerment Framework’. The framework argues that the progression from practical to strategic gender outcomes depends on the extent to which the intervention has potential to ’empower’. The framework includes five ‘levels of equality’ which are: 1) Welfare; 2) Access; 3) Conscientisation; 4) Participation; 5) Control. The interventions aimed at the welfare end of the spectrum will not fundamentally alter gender relations or increase gender equality, whereas actions focused at the participation and control end of the spectrum can lead to improved gender equality (known as transformative change).

It is therefore necessary that our primary focus is on inclusion, participation, and ownership. The efforts can be placed in two broad categories: Mainstreaming Efforts and Targeted Efforts. Gender mainstreaming is the process of assessing the implications for girls and boys/ men and women of any planned action, including legislation, policies, or programmes. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of all an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programmes so that girls and boys / women and men benefit from equality, and inequality is not perpetuated (Action Study, GWP; UTS, to be published soon).

Targeted approaches involve specific strategies to improve gender equality through targeting a particular group/set of individuals – such as women and girls. Examples include providing scholarships for women to study water related professions; quotas for women to take up roles on boards/committees/ministries, etc.; education and training courses provided to women only; and provision of menstrual hygiene management facilities (Action Study, GWP; UTS, to be published soon).

There are certain gaps and opportunities that we can immediately start addressing, such as supporting women leadership in water governance, making institutions accountable for upholding policies on gender equality, and inclusion in governance. If we truly want empowerment, we need to go beyond platitudes and work for real change. The time to act is now, “Yes we can!” If you have more ideas and comments, please engage through the comments section.

Posted in Gender | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We have SDG target 6.5. Now what?

Nisha Midha has been an intern with GWP since the beginning of May 2017. She recently read GWP’s new Technical Committee Background Paper “Measuring transboundary water cooperation: options for Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.5” and found herself fascinated by its content. In this post, she reflects on the importance of thinking critically on how we measure success, the use of indicators for reaching SDG targets, and just how big the SDG targets really are.

E_Logo_No UN Emblem-01At first glance, the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) are daunting. To make the SDGs more tangible and approachable, each SDG has an associated set of targets. Similarly, to help monitor the progress towards each SDG target, each target has one or more indicators. The purpose of these indicators is that they are measurable, can be evaluated, and ultimately, will help us determine – locally, nationally, and globally – when an SDG has been achieved. Sounds simple, right?

Let’s look at SDG 6, which is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. It has 6 targets, all of which are equally important. However, SDG Target 6.5 is of particular interest to GWP. It states: “by 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate” [1]. There are two indicators for SDG 6.5 which aim to measure implementation of IWRM (6.5.1) and transboundary cooperation (6.5.2), as can be seen below [1].

blog_sdgsGWP published Technical Background Paper No. 23 in June 2017, which specifically examines SDG indicator 6.5.2. As discussed in the paper, it is imperative that the definition of each component of the indicator, such as “operational”, is clearly understood. Otherwise, it is likely that results submitted from country to country will be highly variable and results will not be comparable.

What does indicator 6.5.2 hope to measure? It’s obvious that surface water basins and groundwater aquifers do not respect international borders. This results in shared, or transboundary, waters between nations; 310 transboundary basins and 500 transboundary aquifers exist [3]. In order for SDG 6 to be fully accomplished, nations must cooperate over these shared waters. Indicator 6.5.2 comes to the rescue: monitoring will yield an in-country percentage “of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation” [1], where operational arrangements include joint management plans, information exchange, regular meetings, and joint organisations [4]. But how do we define and measure cooperation? How regular do these meetings need to be? Does information exchange truly dictate better shared management of a transboundary water?

Hopefully at this point you are beginning to see the importance of definitions. The recently published paper I read analyzes three methodologies that approach the measurement of transboundary cooperation through different perspectives. One of the three methodologies has already been planned and developed (by UNECE and UNESCO), but is critiqued by the paper’s author (Melissa McCracken) as being prescriptive and lacking flexibility to capture all forms of transboundary cooperative efforts. The second method analyzed is an adaptation of the UNECE and UNSECO methodology, while the third method is an altogether different approach proposed by Dan Tarlock in GWP’s Technical Background Paper No. 21.

McCracken tests each of the three methodologies by doing calculations using real examples of transboundary basins and aquifers in three countries: Bangladesh, Honduras, and Uganda. She is able to compare and contrast the results of the three methodologies, especially scrutinizing whether the numbers reflect the actual transboundary context in each country. McCracken’s examination reveals some key findings on the best way forward for calculating SDG indicator 6.5.2, which I will leave for you to read. The real reason for this blog post is to zoom out from her paper and examine monitoring the SDGs from a broader perspective.

We have so far been discussing a single SDG indicator, but SDG 6 has 11 indicators. And SDG 6 is just one of seventeen SDGs! In total, these 17 SDGs are represented by 241 indicators. Two hundred and forty-one. Each of these indicators are complex and, similar to 6.5.2, could be highly contested on how to measure them. Though this can be overwhelming, I find reassurance in the recent mobilization of efforts to develop the best methodologies for measuring each indicator. For example, UN-Water, the coordinator of SDG 6 monitoring, involved experts from all over the world to develop and optimize the SDG 6 indicator methodology. Indicator 6.5.2 was recently promoted to a “Tier II” indicator from “Tier III”; this means that while the methodology may be closer to being established, a key and missing component of monitoring transboundary cooperation is that the required data is not being tracked in all countries [6].criteriaUN-Water has now been working tirelessly to pilot test SDG 6 monitoring in five countries by establishing country teams, training them, and collecting indicator data [5]. Ultimately, these first attempts at monitoring will reveal required adjustments in the methodology to improve data outcomes; GWP Tech Paper No. 23 is a key contribution to this effort.

To conclude, I enjoyed the paper because it reminded me that we will need to be critical of how we measure our progress towards sustainable development. While the procedures for measuring SDG indicator 6.5.2 have already been advanced, McCracken recommends certain ‘tweaks’ to the related definitions and methodology to ensure we are monitoring in the best possible way. Achieving sustainable development in 13 years is going to take a concerted global effort of many small efforts just like those made by this paper and the individuals behind it. This is key – there will always be the need for individual actions to accomplish progress. Since countries are responsible for monitoring advancement towards the SDGs, even as citizens we can encourage our national decision-makers to invest and implement the best data collection methodologies possible.

I applaud McCracken and those who work relentlessly to scrutinize our SDG path forward. However, I also believe that eventually we will need to roll up our sleeves, stay positive, lean on each other, and get to work. Next stop: sustainable development!

[1] United Nations. (2017). Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. SDG 6. Retrieved from

[2] Global Water Partnership. (2017). Measuring transboundary water cooperation: options for Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.5. GWP TEC Background Paper No. 23. Retrieved from

[3] Wolf et al. (Forthcoming). Revisting the World’s International River Basins.

[4] United Nations-Water (UN-Water). (2016). Step-by-step Monitoring Methodology for Indicator 6.5.2. Retrieved from

[5] UN-Water. (2017) Country process for SDG 6 monitoring (pilot). Retrieved from

[6] UN-Stats. (2017). IAEG-SDGs. Tier Classification for Global SDG Indicators. Retrieved from



Posted in SDGs, Sustainable Development | Leave a comment

Can hydropower be environmentally friendly?

GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer Dr Danka Thalmeinerova recently moderated a panel discussion at the ICPDR workshop “Sustainable Hydropower: Progress, Solutions and Remaining Challenges”. These are her reflections from the event.


All Danube Basin countries have committed to the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). It implies the duty to adopt all measures necessary to achieve the “good status” for all waters. One of the most difficult requirements of the WFD is the principle of non-deterioration of water status.

Under the EU Renewable Energy Directive other requirements are aimed to increase the share of energy from renewable sources. In Danube Basin, the hydroelectric power represents the most important component of total renewable energy production. Thus, the conflict arises: how to maximize benefits of hydropower generation and minimize all negative impacts?

The impacts are huge and include altered sediment dynamics and flow regime, disturbance of cemented structures on habitat and river species and disruption of ecological continuity.

According to the first Danube River Basin Management Plan, significant investments are needed to remediate negative impacts of already existing facilities to meet the requirements of EU environmental legislation. In the case of new hydropower installations, cross-sectorial dialogue of water and energy sectors is a must; without a coordinated approach, both sectors are at risk to fail achieving the objectives and legal compliance.

Although all EU countries are obliged to develop strategic documents helping sustainable decision- making on hydropower projects, there are several technical, administrative and legislative challenges. In addition, Danube Basin is international, crossing administrative and territorial borders. Many NGOs in the Danube basin pointed out that the development of hydropower still puts economic over social and environmental benefits.

NGOs also conducted a survey, according which many countries upgraded existing hydropower plants in technical efficiency, while ecological upgrade has been widely missed. In addition, environmental experts in the Danube Basin alert that hydropower projects are being assessed individually without consideration of cumulative impacts and the basin wide perspective. Effective and efficient cooperation between energy and environmental authorities and commitment to integrated transparent planning is lacking and so is stakeholder involvement.

Since 2013, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) has become active in initiating a dialogue with representatives from the hydropower sector. As an essential step in this process, the Guiding Principles on Sustainable Hydropower Development in the Danube Basin have been developed by an interdisciplinary team.

Several working sessions culminated in the organisation of the ICPDR workshop “Sustainable Hydropower: Progress, Solutions and Remaining Challenges”. This was held in Vienna, Austria on 28-29 March 2017. An Assessment Report and a collection of Case Studies and Good Practice Examples were elaborated, accompanying the Guiding Principles – all presented during the workshop and complemented with intense discussions.

More than 50 participants from 12 Danube basin countries, observers to ICPDR and EU took part at the workshop. The participants represented governments, NGOs, academia, and private sector; more important is that that energy sector, although only from Austria and Croatia, was actively joining the workshop.

The key message of the workshop was “Restoration will cost more than strategic planning” – the need to share experiences among Danube Countries and not to repeat mistakes from the past. GWP was invited to moderate the panel discussion, putting the key conclusions and highlighting the way forward.

GWP will continue to support the ICPDR, serving as a neutral platform for exchange of experiences in the application of ICPDR Guiding Principles.

More details:

Posted in Development, Energy, GWP, Private sector, Water resources management | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment