Evaluation at FAO


Evaluation of FAO’s contribution to SDG 6:
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Water is one of the world´s most precious resources, making the Earth a unique planet filled with life. It is essential for food security, nutrition, health, energy, biodiversity, the environment and other economies. 

Water is central to agriculture which accounts for 72 percent of global freshwater withdrawals, making it the largest water user by far. It is crucial for food production, enabling the production of over 95 percent of food on land. By 2050, to meet future demand, the global production of food, fiber and feed will need to increase by 50 percent compared to 2012. To meet this goal, 35 percent of additional water resources are needed. 

However, freshwater resources have been declining in all regions of the world in the past 30 years and global water availability and quality are deteriorating at an alarming rate. Water challenges such as droughts and floods are increasing due to climate change and are putting the planet’s water resources under increasing stress. Mismanagement of water resources combined with pollution has intensified water stress and degraded water-related ecosystems, leading to negative impacts on human health, economic activities, food and energy supplies, and decline of aquatic biodiversity.

The evaluation assesses the relevance and effectiveness of FAO in supporting its Members to achieve relevant SDG 6 Targets. It seeks to provide FAO’s decision makers with evidence of good practices and lessons learned that can be used to enhance the Organization’s overall contribution to the Goal.

Considering that the Agenda 2030 came into effect in January 2016, the evaluation examines FAO’s work related to SDG 6 that took place from 2016 to 2021. When formulating its recommendations, it takes into consideration the Organization’s context and its recent and future strategic aims, including the Strategic Framework 2022–31.

The evaluation is guided by four key questions:

  • Has FAO positioned and organized itself to maximize its contribution to SDG 6?
  • To what extent have FAO’s interventions related to SDG 6 addressed the needs and demands of its Members and their citizens, promoting the principle of ‘leave no one behind’?
  • What have been the results achieved by or with the contribution of FAO in relation to SDG 6 at country, regional and global levels?
  • To what extent is FAO generating transformational and long-term changes in relation to SDG 6?

The evaluation was presented to the 133rd session of the Programme Committee.

Highlights on FAO’s work on the SDG 6 technical targets

The evaluation found that FAO has contributed to all six SDG 6 technical target areas (targets 6.1-6.6), even in the areas for which FAO’s support is not well known nor expected, such as on better access to drinking water and sanitation (targets 6.1 and 6.2). Both the demands and offer of support are found to be the highest in irrigated agriculture (linked to target 6.4). On the other hand, the support related to water quality and wastewater treatment (target 6.3) was found to be smaller than could be expected.

These targets are not an area where a substantial effort by FAO could be expected and the evidence collected in the evaluation reflects this. Nevertheless, the evaluation found that FAO supported its Members in different parts of the world in this area.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, FAO has supported the development of a Model Law on Community Water and Sanitation Systems that attempts to guarantee access to water and sanitation resources in rural communities in the region and to promote the legal recognition of communities’ organizations.

In the project case studies examined by the evaluation, there were very few activities related to water quality and agrochemical pollution. While FAO recognizes that agriculture and aquaculture are a major source of water pollution worldwide, most of its work to date has focused on the impacts of water quality on agriculture rather than the other way around.

The evaluation recommends the consideration of water quality and pollution in all aspects of FAO’s work.

This is the area where FAO’s expertise has been most utilized, mainly through support on rehabilitating or modernizing existing irrigation systems to enhance their performance and water use efficiency. FAO has provided assistance that combines technical and managerial competence and extensive experience from its long history of supporting Members and international finance institutions in this thematic area.

Integrated water resources management, including transboundary cooperation, is essentially about water governance. 

The evaluation found that while the scope of FAO’s work varied, it normally included components on:

• policy development and implementation
• capacity and institutional development in different tiers of the administrative system
• community-level water governance systems.

On transboundary water issues, FAO’s work is limited but several new initiatives, notably in Asia and the Pacific, have recently been launched. The Transboundary Water Programme in Asia now implements five transboundary water projects engaging eight countries.

The negative impact of agriculture is recognized as an important factor behind the lack of progress in achieving this target.

Protection and restoration of ecosystems are a focus of FAO’s work, such as its initiatives on nature-based solutions, integrated landscape management and forest-water resources management.

 Many projects focused on water as a key component of ecosystems conservation:

  • forest management in China
  • coastal ecosystems in Cambodia
  • sustainable management of wetland resources in Ghana
  • restoration and reforestation of degraded ecosystems in Ecuador
  • steppes management in Türkiye
  • restoring Lake Urmia’s ecosystem in the Islamic Republic of Iran