Water Monitoring

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Based inter alia on a UN-Water Report on Existing Global Systems & Initiatives for Water Monitoring (Aug 2006), this article aims at mapping relevant UN and external data- and knowledge-bases, web portals and other on-line resources supporting the monitoring of water usage, quality and relevant related aspects.

(See also the individual UN-Water organisation pages (above) for their resources)

In the spirit of WaterWiki, this article is created for complementation or amendment/updating of the provided information as adequate; your help in making this article more comprehensive, accurate, updated is most welcome!



The long-term sustainability of water is in doubt in many regions of the world [1]. Currently, humans use about half the water that is readily available. Water use has been growing at more than twice the population rate, and a number of regions are already chronically short of water. Both water quantity and water quality are becoming dominant issues in many countries. Problems relate to poor water allocation and pricing, inefficient use, and lack of adequate integrated management. The major withdrawals of water are for agriculture, industry, and domestic consumption [2] Most of the water used by industries and municipalities is often returned to watercourses degraded in quality. Irrigation agriculture, responsible for nearly 40% of world food production, uses about 70% of total water withdrawals (90% in the dry tropics [3]. Groundwater, which supplies one third of the world’s population, is increasingly being use for irrigation. Water tables are being lowered in many areas making it more expensive to access. Every day, diarrhoeal diseases from easily preventable causes claim the lives of approximately 5000 young children throughout the world. Sufficient and better quality drinking water and basic sanitation can cut this toll dramatically, and simple, low-cost household water treatment has the potential to save further lives [4].

Major water quality problems stem from sewage pollution, the intensive agricultural use of fertilizers and pesticides, industrial wastes, saltwater intrusion, and soil erosion. In many developing countries, rivers downstream of large cities are little cleaner than open sewers. In calling for integrated water resource management, the World Summit on Sustainable Development emphasized the need to protect water, its quality, and ecosystem functions through improved assessment and greater understanding of the impacts of climate change [5]. Water for drinking supply, food production, and sustainable urban and rural development have been recognized as key priorities by the International Community. A global concern has progressively emerged during the last decade, which has translated into numerous actions aimed at reversing the threats to water and expanding the access to related services, especially in developing and transition countries. Various initiatives have been launched by many actors, such as international donors, national public bodies, local communities, private companies and research centres. In some cases, complex sets of tasks and activities are being conceived and implemented. Governments and donors are increasingly called to put in place a uniform and consistent system to monitor the impacts of water-related initiatives. Moreover, the decision and policy-making bodies need to expand, and other time to focus, the sources from which to draw information on the results of the water strategies. Overall figures are also required for advocacy and awareness purpose and to fine tune upcoming strategies and policies.

Crucial in this process is mobilizing the required financial resources of donors and lenders, by showing them that the impact of water-related initiatives in poor countries can be reliably assessed and that their impact on human development and environment sustainability is notable. However, experience shows how difficult is monitoring and reporting on the advancements of individual programmes, and verifying that water sound principles are effectively put into practices. International coordination in monitoring the state of the world’s water resources, access to basic services and progress towards agreed goals and targets is needed, in order to guide future investments and efforts in achieving these goals. Monitoring the advancements in water resources management is essential if the political commitment is to be sustained and put into practice. This need has been widely acknowledged in several occasions.

In January 1992, the UN Dublin Conference on Water and the Environment established the main principles of modern water management which served as the basis of Chapter 18 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Agenda 21 (Rio de Janeiro, June 1992). It includes the imperative necessity of reliable information for water resources planning and management. This issue has been reemphasized in a recent series of UN conferences, such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, Johannesburg, August-September 2002), the 12th and 13th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD, New York, April 2004 and April 2005), as well as other recent international meetings. Moreover, the strategy paper of the European Union Water Initiative (EUWI), launched in 2002, calls for a monitoring and reporting mechanism for progress and quality control.

Monitoring in the mandate of UN-Water

In 2003, the UN High Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) established “UN-Water as the inter-agency mechanism for follow-up of the WSSD water-related decisions and the MDGs concerning water”. The scope of UN-Water’s work encompasses all aspects of freshwater, including surface and groundwater resources and the interface between fresh and sea water. It includes freshwater resources, both in terms of their quality and quantity, their development, assessment, management, monitoring and use (including, for example, domestic uses, agriculture and ecosystems requirements). The scope of work of UN-Water also includes sanitation - encompassing both access to and use of sanitation by populations and the interactions between sanitation and freshwater. It further includes water-related disasters, emergencies and other extreme events and their impact on human security.

UN-Water is the inter-agency mechanism that promotes coherence in, and coordination of, UN system actions aimed at the implementation of the agenda defined by the Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on Sustainable Development as it relates to its scope of work. The main purpose of UN-Water is thus to complement and add value to existing programmes and projects by facilitating synergies and joint efforts, so as to maximize system-wide coordinated action and coherence as well as effectiveness of the support provided to Member States in their efforts towards achieving the time-bound goals, targets and actions related to its scope of work as agreed by the international community, particularly those contained in the MDGs and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

One of UN-Water’s tasks is to facilitate inter-agency information exchange, including sharing of experiences and lessons learned, and serve as a clearing house for policy relevant information, assessment and advice on status and trends at global and regional levels, and for providing Member States with a collective point of entry to the system’s initiatives and responses in areas within its purview.

The purpose of monitoring

Several different visions of monitoring have gradually become accepted over the past decades. Some of those focus, for example, on the performance of projects or specific institutions. Some have the beneficiaries as reference for the analysis, and implement a participatory exercise. Some others use finance as the sole criterion. Still others concentrate on information for senior management decision-making. In recent years the impetus towards monitoring the advancement towards the MDGs, both at the national and the global levels, has acquired decisive prominence.

Measuring the performance and impact of complex water-related programmes or initiatives is an essential task. In this way, it would be possible to track the actual implementation of all initiatives and promote the integration of various activities into the overall development frameworks. Monitoring per se is concerned with the procedures and activities for collecting data and information in the formulation and implementation stages of an action or a series of initiatives. It is particularly aimed at providing regular feedback to guarantee coherence, efficiency and effectiveness against the underlying objectives set at the national and international levels. This will both stimulate support to the initiatives being implemented, and improve the formulation of the subsequent programmes, through a “learning circle” informed by the lessons drawn from previous and ongoing activities.

Proper monitoring will ensure that targets are actually being reached, with disbursements linked to effective achievements. Such programmatic approach entails a continuous and ongoing process of aligning the programmes and expenditure allocations with intended outputs and outcomes, with regular midcourse corrections. Among the examples of consistent monitoring practices, that of the European Union emerges as a good practice. Having well understood the virtues of properly monitoring development policies, including in the domestic water sector, the EU features a long-established monitoring methodology and continuously assesses the results of the whole regional development policy, which would be worthwhile to adapt and adopt for use on a larger scale. Many institutions and organizations at all invest considerable efforts in monitoring water and water-related MDGs. Efforts are needed to streamline existing initiatives, reduce overlaps, enhance coordination along partners and identify gaps for further action in water monitoring. Monitoring has several possible uses: • As a system of early warning; • To inform decision, focus and orient political and policy reforms, and to channel financial resources in the most effective way; • To track progress toward given objectives.

Monitoring internationally agreed goals and targets

UN-Water’s terms of reference imply that particular attention must be given to issues related to internationally agreed goals. The Millennium Development Goals and associated targets and indicators, and the programme and associated indicators of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, monitored by the Commission for Sustainable Development, are therefore the two primary focus of the study.

Monitoring the Millennium Development Goals

In its 2000 Millennium Declaration, the United Nations adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest and are a reference for most Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) programmes. In support of these goals, the Millennium Project was launched by the Secretary General to recommend the best strategies for achieving the MDGs. It has selected a series of indicators to measure progress towards each goal’s achievement. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2006 is based on a master set of data that has been compiled by an Inter-Agency and Expert Group on MDG Indicators led by DESA. The Group comprises representatives of 25 UN agencies and international organizations whose activities include the preparation of one or more of the series of statistical indicators that were identified as appropriate for monitoring progress towards the MDGs.

Monitoring the implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and Agenda 21

The Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) within DESA implemented its Programme of Work on Indicators on Sustainable Development, mandated by CSD, between 1995 and 2001. The work programme culminated in a set of 58 indicators, based on a Theme/Sub-theme framework, and presented in the publication “Indicators of Sustainable Development (ISD): Guidelines and Methodologies”. The set was adopted by the CSD in 2001 after extensive consultations and national testing programmes. The main role of the CSD-ISD is to serve as reference for countries to develop national indicators for sustainable development. The World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and subsequent sessions of the CSD encouraged further work on indicators for sustainable development by countries in line with national conditions and priorities and invited the international community to support efforts of developing countries in this regard. In December 2005, the DSD decided to review and update its current set of indicators. An Expert Group Meeting was organized in New York from 13 – 15 December 2005, chaired by the Chief, National Information, Monitoring and Outreach Branch DESA/DSD. While they differ in scope, a particular attention was given to MDG indicators, in order to ensure highest possible coherence between the two sets of indicators. In particular, the meeting endorsed the proposal by WHO to adopt the same indicators for Water Supply and Sanitation as for the MDG.

The interim revised CSD-ISD within the freshwater theme are as follows (see Table). In addition, DSD is considering the possibility to develop a water quality index rather than the proposed three indicators. While there has been wide consultation with agencies in the process, UN-Water as such has not been directly involved.

Sub-theme Core Indicators Additional/secondary indicators
Water Quantity Annual withdrawal of Ground and Surface as percent of Total Renewable Water
Water Quality BOD in Water bodies Metal Contamination of Freshwater
Concentration of Faecal Coliform in Freshwater

The call on UN-Water to monitor and report on implementations of CSD-13

CSD-13, in its final report, decided “... to call on Governments, and the UN system, within existing resources and through voluntary contributions, and invites international financial institutions, and other international organizations, as appropriate, working in partnership with major groups and other stakeholders, to take action as follows:

  • Requests the UN-Water to ...... promote, within its mandate, system-wide interagency cooperation and coordination among relevant UN agencies, funds and programs on these issues, and requests the Secretary General to include in his report to the CSD the activities of UN Water as they relate to the aforementioned thematic areas, including the roles and responsibilities of relevant UN agencies, funds and programs in implementing and monitoring the water and sanitation agenda, including identifying duplication, overlap and gaps.

Without prejudice to the programme, organization and methods of work of the Commission adopted at its eleventh session, decides to devote, in 2008 and 2012, a separate segment at the end of its review sessions, for a duration to be determined by the Bureau in advance, using one to two days as a benchmark, to monitor and follow-up the implementation of decisions on water and sanitation, and their inter-linkages, taken at CSD-13.” The year 2008 is therefore the next concrete opportunity for UN-Water to show progress in monitoring and reporting on implementation of the global water agenda in a coordinated and coherent way.

UN-SD Initiative the System of integrated Environmental and Economic accounting, (SEEA)

The Un Statistics Division is developing a System of integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting, (SEEA). The SEEA can be used as the information base for the capital approach and in particular the derivation of the wealth of a nation. The SEEA organizes environmental and economic information according to the concepts, classifications and definitions of the System of National Accounts (SNA). This allows for integrated analyses of the interactions between the economy and the environment as well as formulation of policies.

The SEEA encourages the adoption of standards and improves both economic and environment statistics by fostering consistency. A number of indicators related to the environmental and economic aspects of development can be derived from the SEEA and they have the advantage of being consistent and coherent. In addition, the underlying integrated information system allows for in-depth analyses of the processes behind changes in the indicators thus facilitating the formulation of policies. A number of countries regularly compile environmental accounts and use the accounting framework for the derivation of indicators including sustainable development indicators. The linkage with CSD indicators is complex.


A map of Global Water Monitoring Initiatives

(Original source: UN-Water: Water Monitoring - Mapping Existing Global Systems & Initiatives (Aug 2006))

The United Nations system is complex. It is not easy to explain what each agency/programme and initiative does, since each one has its own priorities and procedures; and they are of course not invariant over time. Their role within UN-Water and information on their water related activities is available at WWAP portal hosted at the UNESCO web site. UN-Water members have agreed to work together - sharing information, knowledge and know-how - to improve the understanding of the policies and practices that encourage sustainable use of water resources.

The main global water monitoring initiatives are described in details at Global Water Monitoring Initiatives. There are possibly other water-related dataset held within the UN agencies, which are not public (i.e. not accessible on-line at present). Some databases are not held directly within UN institutions, but they are linked to the UN in various ways. For instance, UNESCO in particular funds or sponsors numerous programmes within universities; some of this data is used in UN reports, such as the World Water Development Report. As such, data is not under the direct control of the agency which commissions it. In this case, uncertainty regarding data quality and UN consistency assessment should be considered.

The Water Monitoring Alliance, an initiative of the World Water Council from its portal at http://www.watermonitoringalliance.net presents a tool to locate water related data in different regions and for different themes. Data can be searched for within a list of monitoring programmes and related activities, and it is possible to consult the activities sorted by geographical scope, type of activity, or keyword and to consult auxiliary information such as creation date, type, and scope. On its side GWP, proposing and presenting on its forum a list of IWRM websites, also states a value judgment marking some of them with a quality check. The UN-Water corporate information system has to provide the official and highest-quality data and information that is held by the UN system. It is proposed that the UN-Water embraces only those data sets which are of global importance, which obtain data directly from individual countries or reliable sources clearly associated to the UN agency sponsoring them.

In whatever modern information system metadata (literally “data about data”), are a crucial kit to allow a trustworthy use of information, in time and space, and notblind data quality assessment. An important attribute to consider a data set for inclusion it will be so the availability of related metadata, including source and methodology. Metadata have to include the information on where, when, by whom and how (using which methodology) data have been obtained.

Water monitoring initiative and datasets

UN websites

Collaborating Centre on Water and the Environment
The UNEP Collaborating Centre on Water and Environment is a centre of expertise of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The centre supports UNEP in the implementation of its Water Policy and Strategy.
CSD Water Action Network Database
Supported by UNDESA the database aims to provide a growing resource to those working on water and sanitation issues.
UN Platform (hosted by UNEP) to share surface and ground water data sets collected from the GEMS/Water Global Network (>3,000 stations, > 100 parameters).
The UNEP GEMS/Water Programme is a multi-faceted water science programme oriented towards understanding freshwater quality issues throughout the world Major activities include monitoring, assessment, and capacity building. The implementation of the GEMS/Water programme involves several United Nations agencies. GEMS/Water Programme provides scientifically-sound data and information on the state and trends of global inland water quality required as a basis for the sustainable management of the world’s freshwater to support global environmental assessments and decision- making processes. More than 100 countries participate in GEMS/Water, providing in excess of 2 million data entries. Data records range from 1977 to the present. Starting from March 22nd 2005, World Water Day, GEMS Water Programme has launched GEMStat an online searchable database of global water quality data and statistics for global water assessment. It includes surface waters such as lakes, reservoirs, streams, rivers, estuaries, and wetlands; and groundwater aquifers. All data are subject to standard data integrity review processes.
OpenWater (GEMS Water / UNEP)
"a Wiki that provides a platform for water quality scientists, researchers and practitioners to discuss analytical methods..." (more...)
The GEO Data Portal is the authoritative source for data sets used by UNEP and its partners in the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report and other integrated environment assessments. Its online database holds more than 450 different variables, 136 related to water, as national, subregional, regional and global statistics or as geospatial data sets (maps), covering themes like Freshwater, Population, Forests, Emissions, climate change, Disasters, Health and GDP. They could be displayed over internet as maps, graphs, data tables or downloaded in different common formats. The set of databases available is significant and comprehensive, ranging from political boundaries through arable land extents to energy production and protected areas. This is an impressive collection of data from many sources coupled with a map interface to navigate the data. An innovative structure and interface make the site easy to use.
Global International Water Assessment
GIWA is a water programme led by UNEP. The aim of GIWA is to produce a comprehensive and integrated global assessment of international waters, the ecological status of and the causes of environmental problems in 66 water areas in the world, and focus on the key issues and problems facing the aquatic environment in transboundary waters. GIWA is funded to about 50 per cent by GEF. Other major donors are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Finnish Department for International Development Co-operation, and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (Sida).
IGRAC Global Groundwater Information System
In 1999 UNESCO and WMO took an initiative to set up an international groundwater centre that resulted in launching of IGRAC in March 2003. IGRAC is hosted by the Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience TNO in Utrecht, The Netherlands. For the initial years IGRAC receives financial support from the Dutch government. IGRAC has been identified by the World Water Assessment Programme as a pillar of their groundwater assessment programme. Promotion, improvement and development of Guidelines and Protocols for adequate groundwater data acquisition and groundwater monitoring are one of centre’s main activities. IGRAC has prepared a Global Inventory Report on existing guidelines and protocols for groundwater assessment and monitoring. On-line database on inventoried guidelines and protocols in the field of groundwater data acquisition contains at the moment more than 400 document titles. New guidelines are being developed by international working groups established for this purpose.
Global Programme for the Protection of Marine Environments from Land-based activities
Hosted by UNEP, this is an intergovernmental programme that addresses the interlinkages between freshwater and the coastal environment.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Established by UNEP and WMO assesses scientific, technical and socio- economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. The Data Distribution Centre (DCC) offers access to baseline and scenario data for representing the evolution of climatic, socio-economic, and other environmental conditions.
Joint Monitoring Programme
Since 1990, WHO and UNICEF have teamed up to track progress on global water and sanitation goals through the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) (JMP). The JMP is the official arrangement within the UN System to produce information for the UN Secretary General on the progress of achieving the Millennium Development Goals related to water supply and sanitation.
Transboundary Freshwater Database
To aid in the assessment of the process of water conflict prevention and resolution, over the years has been developed the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database, a project of the Oregon State University Department of Geosciences, in collaboration with the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering and UNESCO. Inter alia, it provides an Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements; contains an historical overview of international river basin management; a detailed listing of more than 400 international freshwater agreements; and a collection of thematic maps.
Millennium Indicator Database
Hosted by UNDESA Statistics Division, the site presents the official data, definitions, methodologies and sources for the 48 indicators to measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
cdb_quick_start.asp United Nations Common Database Water Statistics
This database includes the secondary water dataset and draws selectively on statistics from throughout the UN system and covers all countries and areas and over 300 series from more than 30 specialized international data sources.
UNESCO Water Portal
The site provides links to the current UNESCO and UNESCO-led programmes on freshwater and is serving as an interactive point for sharing, browsing and searching websites of water-related organizations, government bodies and NGOs, including a range of categories such as water links, water events, learning modules and other on-line resources.
World Hydrological Cycle Observing System
WHYCOS and its components primarily focus on strengthening technical and institutional capacities of National Hydrological Services (NHSs) and improving their cooperation in the management of shared water resources. WHYCOS supports the NHS’s to better fulfil their responsibilities, by improving the availability, accuracy, and dissemination of water resources data and information through the development and implementation of appropriate national and regional water resources information systems thereby facilitating its use for sustainable socio-economic development.

Other websites

FAO’s global information system of water and agriculture developed by the Land and Water Development Division of FAO. The objective of AQUASTAT is to provide users with comprehensive information on the state of agricultural water management across the world, with emphasis on developing countries and countries in transition.
Crop Explorer
A US Department of Agriculture website providing hydro-meteorological data (i.a. in real-time).
Water data "storehouse" and portal for Central Asia with Database, Links and other features. Pulling together i.a. water-relevant data from ICWC, IFAS and other partners. The Portal was created within the framework of the Central Asia Regional Water Information Base (CAREWIB) Project funded by the Swiss Agency for the Development and Cooperation and being implemented by SIC ICWC jointly with the UNECE and UNEP/GRID-Arendal.
Global Information and Early Warning System
Supported by FAO, GIEWS aims to keep the world food supply/demand situation under continuous review, issue reports on the world food situation (Publications: Food Outlook, Crop Prospects and Food Situation, etc.), and provide early warnings of impending (also water shortage related) food crises in individual countries. For countries facing a serious food emergency, FAO/GIEWS and the World Food Programme also carry out joint Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions (CFSAMs). Their purpose is to provide timely and reliable information so that appropriate actions can be taken by the governments, the international community, and other parties.
Supported by IAEA, this is an interesting tool for climatological (interpretation of paleorecords), atmospheric (validation of global circulation models) and hydrological(large regional and global scale water balances studies. The ISOHIS database allows the gathering, storage and dissemination of isotope, chemical, hydrogeological and geographical data of water studies around the world. This represents the first step of a compilation of isotope information on ground and surface water. The primary source of information for ISOHIS is the IAEA archives (technical co-operation and research contract projects). At the end of 2000, the two databases were combined in a common Web Site called GNIP / ISOHIS in order to facilitate the development and maintenance of the Internet site which offers one source for all isotope hydrology data.
Global Precipitation Climatology centre
The GPCC is a central element of the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) which was established by the WMO/ICSU Joint Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme at its Seventh Session (Lisbon, March 1986). The GPCC has internationally defined functions. In the future, the GPCC will act as a GCOS specified global data centre for precipitation.
Global Runoff Data centre
The GRDC is the digital world-wide depository of discharge data and associated metadata. GRDC’s role is to serve as a facilitator between data providers and data users. It serves under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and has been established at the Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG), Germany, as early as 1988 in order to support the hydrological and climatological research community by collection and dissemination of a comprehensive and sound runoff data base. A frequently Quoted Primary data Source the Global Runoff Data base at Global Runoff Data Centre is focusing the multifaceted world of global river discharge data for the sake of key research linking local and global change issues.
Global Terrestrial Observation System
Supported by FAO is a programme for observations, modelling, and analysis of terrestrial ecosystems to support sustainable development. GTOS facilitates access to information on terrestrial ecosystems so that researchers and policy makers can detect and manage global and regional climate change.
Global Water Partnership - Monitoring IWRM
The GWP seeks to support integrated approaches to sustainable water management by encouraging stakeholders at all levels to work together in more effective, efficient and collaborative ways. The Partnership is an international network open to all organizations involved in water resources management, including governments of developing as well as developed countries, UN agencies, multilateral banks, professional associations, research organizations, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. The World Bank,UNDP and Sida created the Global Water Partnership (GWP) in 1996. This initiative was based on promoting and implementing integrated water resources management through the development of a worldwide network that could pull together financial, technical, policy and human resources to address the critical issues of sustainable water management.
International Benchmarking Network for Water and Sanitation Utilities (IBNET)
(IBNET) is an initiative to encourage water and sanitation utilities to compile and share a set of core cost and performance indicators, and thus meet the needs of the various stakeholders. It sets forth a common set of data definitions; a minimum set of core indicators, and provides software to allow easy data collection and calculation of the indicators, while it also provides resources to analyze data and present results. Sharing of results is critical to successful performance comparisons (benchmarking), and hence tools for data analysis, resources and links to benchmarking organizations. It includes a direct access to a large database for water and sanitation utilities performance data.
Wastewater Database
Developed by the Water Quality and Environment Group, the Wastewater Database contains information on wastewater production, treatment, re-use, as well as economic information provided by member states. The Database information is sorted by region and country containing fields on wastewater production, treatment technologies, and financial/economical parameters by country.
Water Law and Standards
A result of FAO/WHO interagency collaboration, this database provides national water legislation and a database of legislation on natural resources.

Points for further discussion

The following points have their origin in an analysis of the systems which have been screened by the UN-Water report "Water Monitoring". It is neither comprehensive, nor can it be fully objective and exact. Therefore, they must be considered as a starting point and an opportunity for discussion rather than a definitive judgement on the different initiatives.

1. By nature, most of the global water databases and monitoring systems currently maintained by the various UN agencies and programmes contain secondary data; in other words the organisations concerned do not collect the data themselves, but compile and disseminate data retrieved from sources that directly collect data (primary databases). Country-level data is mostly drawn from national sources (that have to be supported to strengthen their outputs) and the main role of the different UN agencies is to compile them and provide global estimate relevant to their respective mandate.

2. In several cases, however, UN agencies or other institutions maintain information systems based uniquely on tertiary data already collected from international sources. While the added value of compiling tertiary data from different international sources may be justified by the need to serve a specific purpose or reach a broader audience, it bring a problem of synchronicity of update, and sometimes of intellectual property and visibility. There are indeed a relatively small number of “primary international datasets” within the UN system and its among partners. One possible role of UN-Water would be to serve as clearing house, identifying and attributing of primary responsibility to a single institution or programme for each dataset, thus reducing duplication, avoiding inconsistencies, and streamlining resources. Allocation of a given responsibility could be associated with a set of conditions to be fulfilled to guarantee the quality of the dataset.

3. Water-related targets of the MDGs are adequately covered by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring programme which reports regularly on water supply and sanitation. The JMP is also the only comprehensive global monitoring system which includes field surveys and does not Main findings and points for discussion rely only on secondary information.

4. However, the fact that water does not appear anywhere else in the MDGs than under the WSS banner is striking, while it has been demonstrated that water plays a role in practically all the MDGs. In particular, Target 9 of MDG 7 Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources should include a waterrelated indicator. UN-Water may want to negotiate with DESA to consider inclusion of a water indicator in the MDG monitoring process.

5. With regard to CSD and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, several independent initiatives have flourished in the last years, at global, regional and local levels. GWP, UNDP, Japan Water Forum and UNEP-UCC regional initiatives have developed a capacity to monitor the adoption of IWRM plans. UN-Water’s role would be provide a formal framework for the development of an agreed methodology to monitor IWRM plans and their implementation.

6. The role of UN-Water in CSD is also to better interact with UNSD in the definition of water-related indicators of sustainable development. In particular, UN-Water should investigate further the possibility to develop a Sustainable water development index.

7. Generally speaking, information on water quantity seem to be more widely available than water quality data, in terms of countries coverage. The main cause for this might be that quantities are easier to assess and monitor than quality. A lot remain to be done to obtain a good coverage of world-wide water quality monitoring. GEMS water provides a good platform for further development of global water quality monitoring but it may need to reconsider its approach.

8. Several major monitoring programmes suffer from irregular updating which affect their timely and regular reporting capacity.

9. Some monitoring systems are not easily accessible and poorly described and therefore probably of little use for the international community.

10. Data quality is and remains a major issue in assessing the reliability of monitoring systems. While heterogeneity in the quality of data is intrinsically related to the nature of the data collection process, which relies in most cases on country capacities to collect and handle information, the development of metadata, careful cross-checking of information and systematic description of some standard assessment of quality level can greatly increase understanding about the reliability of information. The UN Statistics group is developing quality control and reporting procedures appropriate to country compilations which should be systematically used for waterrelated data.

11. There is tremendous scope for better structuring of information among the different systems, with large potential benefits for the users of the information. A potential area of improvement is related to innovative cost-effective IT and communication and dissemination solutions. The idea of a Federated Water Monitoring System (FWMS), a web services based UN-Water corporate information system, is described in details in Annex. The approach suggested is that, making use of the latest available technology, while having a single point of entry (portal), the UN-Water corporate information system datasets will stay resident at their respective domain lead Agency, and evocated and combined on internet for dissemination at a user request. Such a solution, other than being of great impact on timeliness since data recalled will be always the last update, may permit saving of resources actually dedicated to replication of secondary data and permit the federation partners to concentrate on their core activity. It will also contribute to enhancing the coherence and comparability among existing systems.

12. While the amount of information available is impressive, key information is still missing to get a full coverage of the water sector. Water productivity is not available in a systematic way. Gender-related information, for instance time spent by women and girls to fetch water in cities and rural areas don’t seem to be readily available. Information on wastewater production and treatment is still anecdotal, and very little information is available on the role of civil society Disputes - a rapidly growing concern, are not reported in a systematic way, except in the case of Transboundary Waters. Global monitoring of groundwater drawdown remains a problem, in particular in conceptual terms (how to represent them). UN-Water may seek to identify major gaps in global water information and focus attention and resources on the development of additional monitoring capacities.

13. Logically, country-based information dominates in existing water-related monitoring systems. However, the need exists to start developing information by river basin. World Resources Institute (WRI) has made considerable efforts in that sense with the development of its database Watersheds of the world which could serve as a framework for the development on a basin-level monitoring capacity.

14. Impressive progresses were made recently in the development of global spatial information through GIS. While data quality remains an issue for several of these datasets, the development of common open-sources platforms, like Geonetwork, are an excellent example of successful inter-agency collaboration.

15. The number of initiatives classified as Reporting or Assessment is impressive and growing. While this is probably unavoidable, in view of the different target audiences of each of these initiatives, it should be reminded that all these programmes rely on information collected by the monitoring programmes. In some cases, the usefulness and justification for some programmes relying only on other international sources for their global information is questionable.

16. During the mapping exercise it has been observed that the most of the data used to compile indicators is collected at national level (i.e. from national public administration bodies such as Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Water or National Statistics Institutes) and it seems that this tendency will be reinforced in the years to come. The need to reinforce country capacities in setting up performing monitoring systems must be reiterated. In parallel with the development and improvement of global monitoring systems to satisfy the needs of the international community, UN-Water must work towards strengthening national capacity to collect water data, especially for developing countries and countries with economies in transition. This includes the development and dissemination of standard methodologies, best practises, starting with updated basic classification, definitions and glossaries though all possible means, including regional workshops, training courses, ad-hoc consultancies, and internet.

17. Related to this point is the formulation of water initiatives fundraising campaign to support this institutional building at global and local level. UN-Water should promote programmes aimed at enhancing country capacity in the long path towards water data production, self reliance and sustainability. A future tendency could be that critical information (required to compile higher level indicators) organized in domains could be collected only once (i.e. in a single survey) at the source (country level) and be available, after processing, in the required format everywhere else for domain analysis purposes at national and global level for many secondary processing users.



  1. UN DESA, http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/natlinfo/indicators/isdms2001/ isd-ms2001isd.htm
  2. Table presented is extracted from the FAO Food and Agriculture Statistics Global Outlook, June 2006; data, however, refers to the year 2000. http://faostat.fao.org/Portals/_Faostat/documents/pdf/world.pdf
  3. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World, Report of the Secretary-General, Commission on Sustainable Development, Fifth Session, April 1997
  4. JMP, Water for Life: making it happen, 2005 http://www.wssinfo.org/ pdf/JMP_05_text.pdf
  5. United Nations, Agenda 21, Chapter 18 http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/ documents/agenda21/english/agenda21chapter18.htm

UN-Water: Water Monitoring - Mapping Existing Global Systems & Initiatives (Aug 2006)

See also


External Resources



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