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  • UNESCO-IHE Expert Meeting on

    Water-related SDGs and Capacity Development

    UNESCO-HE, Delft, The Netherlands

    6-7 February 2013

    Meeting Report

    Edited by

    Dr. Uta Wehn de Montalvo, Maria Pascual Sanz and Zaki Shubber

  • Introduction

    In the course of formulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), formal and

    informal debates are taking place about how best to address cross-cutting issues

    such as water. Water supply, sanitation and water resources are affected not only by

    climate change, rising demands for water and increasing pollution of sources but also

    by weak human, organisational and institutional capacity. Although of central

    importance to the sustainable attainment of water-related SDGs, capacity

    development (CD) is an issue that has not yet been included in the current debates.

    With a view to contributing its expertise in water sector capacity development to this

    process, the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education convened an Expert

    Meeting on 6-7 February 2013, on water-related SDGs and capacity development in

    preparation of the 5th Delft Symposium on Water Sector Capacity Development. 1

    The overall objective of the meeting was to challenge the 26 international experts

    convened to explore how capacity development challenges for sustainably achieving

    water-related SDGs can be addressed in the post 2015 development agenda.

    Specific questions to be addressed were:

     What are specific (sub)targets for water-related capacity development by


     What are corresponding SMART indicators for measuring progress with water-

    related capacity development?

     How to can CD-related targets be channeled into the overall SDG framework?

    This meeting report summarises the discussions.

    Sustainable Development Goals

    A brief discussion on the applicability of the SDGs as compared to the Millennium

    Development Goals (MDGs) clarified the scope of the SDGs, i.e. pertaining to all

    countries rather than just developing countries, and the ambition to merge the

    (remaining) MDGs into one larger, integrating framework (the Post 2015

    Development Agenda). The number of different ongoing SDG-related processes

    were briefly reviewed, namely the work of the High Level Panel, the Open Working

    Group (OWG), national and online consultations on eleven themes2 as well as many

    informal initiatives that are trying to contribute their views. Although these efforts

    exist, with varying success, in order to differentiate the process of developing the

    1 The 5th Delft Symposium is expected to make significant contributions both to the on-going SDG debate and to several major related events in 2013 in terms of its focus and timing. Building on a tradition that started in 1991,

    the Symposium itself will take place from 29-31 May 2013. It is being organised by UNESCO-IHE in collaboration

    with the Asian Development Bank, Cap-Net UNDP, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands and Vitens-

    Evides International. The Symposium is foreseen as the international forum for water users, development

    practitioners, researchers, policy makers, water professionals and capacity development specialists to discuss

    "Developing capacity from Rio to reality: Who is taking the lead?" 2 These themes consist of the following: inequalities, governance, growth and employment, health, education,

    environmental sustainability, food security and nutrition, conflict and fragility, population dynamic, energy, and water. Notably, water was not initially included in the selected themes and added later on in the process.

  • SDGs from the way in which the MDGs had been prepared (namely, top down), it

    also clearly emerged that these efforts are mostly disjoint and that there is a lack of


    The discussion brought to light a more general difference of opinion among different

    (groups of) countries regarding the conceptualisation of the SDGs and their

    implications, especially with respect to resulting financial obligations (in the face of

    the financial crisis) and potentially imposing limits to the growth of national

    economies. The preparedness to incorporate sustainability considerations into

    national policies was deemed limited, due to the paradigm-changing nature of

    sustainability and the changes in values that are required. It was also perceived to be

    hampered by the absence of leading examples. The discussion highlighted the

    importance of making the SDGs acceptable to politicians by working with

    governments in the development of the SDGs, taking the (differing) political contexts

    into account and arriving at short, punchy messages rather than thorough and in-

    depth conceptualisations that academic/scientific approaches are tending towards.

    Yet the crucial role of science to provide factual evidence and the basis upon which

    indicators should be devised was also stressed. In order to increase the acceptability

    of the SDGs, the need to arrive at a limited set of simple indicators and

    measurements was stressed, with a particular emphasis on the importance of

    monitoring progress towards such goals and targets.

    Water-related SDGs

    Following a couple of scheduled and ad-hoc presentations about current progress

    with, and approaches to, water-related SDGs, the discussion highlighted the clear

    need to go beyond the MDG WASH goal. Tensions between long term threats and

    the (typically) short term agendas of politicians were commented upon, stating that

    short-term threats are politically more 'appealing'. Questions were raised as to

    whether the current approach for a water-related SDG (namely focusing on WASH,

    waste water and water resource management) would be sufficiently broad to capture

    and cover water-related environmental, economic and social issues. Alternative

    suggestions were made, such as aiming for one all-encompassing, aspirational goal

    rather than the three sub-themes.

    There was general agreement that current efforts are quite complex with respect to

    the number of targets and indicators that are being considered for the water sub-

    themes and that there seems to be a clear need to simplify these. In this respect, the

    methodology presented in the Asian Water Development Report 20133 to quantify

    water security via a composite index was well received and considered a very

    valuable contribution. Some concerns were also raised about this approach with

    respect to a) limitations (e.g. dangers of aggregation and limited scalability) arising

    3 This approach departs from the premise: if water security is important, how can we measure it in order to

    manage it? The composite water security index is presented in the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013:

  • from its use of available data (rather than considering wider, yet to be collected data

    sets), b) the underlying assumptions and c) the political sensitivity of the generated


    Suggestions were made to distinguish between goals as desired outcomes and

    targets as being reliant on particular strategies (such as capacity development,

    financial resources or other inputs). Targets should be translatable into specific

    programmes. The importance of ownership was emphasised in this respect: the 'next

    generation of goals' should be designed such that they would allow for more

    ownership, with local governments taking charge of the process of reaching specific

    goals and, more generally, their development agenda.

    As the discussion continued, the diversity of efforts regarding water-related SDGs

    that are under way became clear and questions were raised as to whether these

    efforts may possibly be channeled into one joint effort, such as via the OWG. It

    remains to be seen whether the OWG can bring the various processes together and

    move them forward into one direction, also given the composition of the OWG

    (consisting of a subset rather than all UN Member States). Nevertheless, the OWG

    was reported to start off in 'stock taking' mode (gathering facts and evidence on the

    thematic areas under consideration for the SDGs), rather than drafting instantly, in

    order to avoid ideological debates.

    Even though the cross-cutting nature of water was clearly acknowledged, there was

    also general consensus on supporting one single ‘water’ SDG as opposed to water

    as an issue cutting across many/several other SDGs. The latter option was

    considered running the risk of 'watering down' the importance of water in the SDGs,

    especially given the perception by some that a water-related goal is still contested at

    the policy level. There was a perceived need to develop supportive evidence that a

    water-related goal is necessary.

    What also clearly emerged from this discussion was that capacity development

    aspects, although deemed highly important, were still missing in most of the reviewed

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