Sustainable Development Goals

Indicator 6.4.1 - Change in water use efficiency over time

Water Use Efficiency (WUE) at national level is the sum of the efficiencies in the major economic sectors weighted according to the proportion of water withdrawn by each sector over the total withdrawals. The indicator measures changes in WUE and has been designed to address the economic component of SDG Target 6.4.

Target 6.4

By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

Change in water-use efficiency over time 


This indicator will improve knowledge on the efficiency and sustainability of water usage. Together with indicator 6.4.2, it will provide vital information to ensure that water resources support the world's ecosystems and continue to be available for future generations.

Key results

Water use efficiency is improving in most regions, although the rate of progress varies widely

Improving water use efficiency is a key measure that can contribute to reducing overall water stress in a country, provided that it also leads to a parallel reduction of water withdrawals. Increasing water-use efficiency over time means using less water to produce the same amount of output, effectively decoupling economic growth from water-use across the main water-using sectors.

Across the world, water use efficiency rose from 17.28 USD/m3 in 2015 to 19.01 USD/m3 in 2018 worldwide, a 10 percent efficiency increase. Estimates for water use efficiency range from as little as 0.2 USD/m3 for countries whose economies depend largely on agriculture, to 1,096 USD/m3 in highly industrialized, service-based economies that are less dependent on natural resources. The majority of countries (two thirds) have a water use efficiency between 5 and 100 USD/m3.

Regionally, water use efficiency in 2018 ranges from 2.5 USD/m3 in Central Asia, to 62.34 USD/m3 in Oceania, highlighting again the huge differences existing across the world. The figures also show that several regions have been faster at increasing water use efficiency over time. The highest proportional increases have been recorded in Central Asia and Southern Asia, while Oceania and Northern Africa show lower improvements, and Latin America and the Caribbean registered an actual decline in water use efficiency.

Agriculture tends to have a much lower water use efficiency compared to other productive sectors, meaning that a country’s economic structure usually greatly affects its overall water use efficiency. Increasing agricultural water productivity is therefore a key intervention for improving water use efficiency, particularly in agricultural-reliant countries. The agriculture sector has seen an 8 percent increase in their water use efficiency since 2015. Other important measures include reducing water losses by tackling leakages in municipal distribution networks and optimizing industrial and energy cooling processes.

Around 56 percent of countries presented a water use efficiency equivalent to 20 USD/m3 or less in 2018, compared to 58 percent in 2015.



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