Reconciling global aspirations and local realities: Challenges facing the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation

Reconciling global aspirations and local realities: Challenges facing the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation

World Development 118 (2019) 106–117 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect World Development journal homepage: ...

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World Development 118 (2019) 106–117

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

World Development journal homepage:

Reconciling global aspirations and local realities: Challenges facing the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation Veronica Herrera University of Connecticut, United States

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:

Keywords: Sustainable Development Goals Water and sanitation Governance Local Latin America Asia

a b s t r a c t The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is ambitious and inclusive, but how well are these global aspirations likely to result in implementable policy change for water and sanitation? This article assesses governance challenges at the local level associated with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which pledges to ensure sustainable water and sanitation for all. The majority of developing countries manage services at the subnational level, making the quality of local governance the key ingredient for improvements in the sector. This article first reviews prior shortcomings in global monitoring efforts and how SDG 6 was formulated to address them. The analysis then examines local governance challenges facing SDG 6 and potential barriers to implementation. These barriers manifest as both contradictions within SDG 6 itself as well as contradictions between SDG 6 and the Sustainable Development Agenda more broadly. As SDG monitoring rubrics undergo further reformulations, it may be necessary to prioritize between goals and targets, or otherwise stagger the timing of their promotion and implementation. Ó 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction When the 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, they introduced the most ambitious global development goals in history. The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (2015–2030) committed member states to end poverty, shift the world onto a sustainable path, and ensure greater inclusion (Kamau, Chasek, & O’Connor, 2018, pp. 1–5). This article examines how well poised these broad goals are to facilitate improvements in water and sanitation (W&S) in developing countries. SDG 6 (ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) follows a century-long international effort to improve water access in developing countries through declarations such as the 1992 Dublin Principles and the 2010 UN Human Rights Council Resolution 64/292 on the Right to Water. Previously, Target 7.C of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (1990–2015) was devoted to improving W&S. Since much of SDG 6 will follow a similar accounting regime as its MDG predecessor, assessing the path forward for SDG 6 entails understanding prior monitoring efforts. The purpose of global monitoring is to align priorities between international development partners, track progress over time, and E-mail address: [email protected] 0305-750X/Ó 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

incentivize greater financial commitments to the Global South. Global monitoring through the MDGs were designed to be straightforward metrics that allowed for easy comparability across countries. Using simple metrics, such as counting taps and toilets, would provide clear signals about the state of access to W&S around the globe in order to assist policymakers and guide official development assistance. This approach did provide the first ever global picture of W&S access, but it had significant shortcomings. Over-aggregated indices of W&S access under the MDGs failed to capture much of the variation in service quality, quantity, ease of access, and sustainability of W&S management in developing countries. Analysts could then not rely on MDG data to accurately reflect variation in progress across the world, and thus received mixed signals about where to target interventions and the form these should take. Therefore, the MDGs’ gains were mixed, and it is likely that in many cases, global monitoring had limited influence in domestic-level W&S provision. Will developing countries’ experiences with SDG 6 be different? This paper argues that the Sustainable Development Goals overcome important shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals and improves the course upon which the international community tackles vexing problems of water safety and access and sustainable sanitation provision. Yet SDG 6 will still struggle in the face of local governance challenges, and contradictions both within targets for SDG 6 as well as across other goals in the Sustainable Development Agenda.

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SDG architects should be commended for expanding the scope of global W&S monitoring, including a new emphasis on environmental sustainability, comprehensive water resource management, and participation from local communities. Yet reaching SDGs for W&S in developing countries will likely remain a challenge because access to water is a problem of governance—and particularly local governance—rather than merely a problem of technology, infrastructure or financing. While global monitoring has for long been dependent on information provided by national governments, water services are typically governed by local and regional authorities. Therefore, to understand the types of challenges likely to arise when implementing SDG 6, we must look to local actors and institutions. This review is meant to bridge the gap between global aspirations and the local realities within which SDG 6 is being implemented. In what follows I provide an overview of the shortcomings attributed to MDG monitoring of W&S, before evaluating proposed improvements to global monitoring in the sector through the design of SDG 6. The last two sections draw on scholarship from political science, geography, sociology, and economics to consider barriers to implementation related to local governance challenges. These barriers manifest as both contradictions within SDG 6 itself as well as contradictions between SDG 6 and the Sustainable Development Agenda more broadly. I examine local governance challenges (related to partisan intervention, public administration, corruption, and regulatory failures) to illuminate the difficulty of implementing broad goals into local contexts, and potential contradictions that may emerge. For example, SDG 6 objectives of boosting both private sector involvement and citizen participation may in fact pull in opposite directions. Finally, I review contradictions across the Sustainable Development Agenda as they relate to different components of water resource governance. Using illustrative examples from Brazil, China, India and Colombia, this article shows how achieving one SDG may undermine the successful implementation of other SDGs. As SDG monitoring rubrics continue to be modified, it may be necessary to prioritize between goals and targets or stagger the timing of their implementation. Local policymakers would benefit from further guidance regarding conflicts that will likely emerge when multiple goals are pursued simultaneously. 1.1. The history of global monitoring initiatives and the development of the MDGs Unlike many other SDGs that are being newly executed, monitoring efforts for W&S has been institutionalized through a prior global monitoring regime that revealed criteria for effective and ineffective monitoring in the sector. International monitoring dates back to the 1930s under the auspices of the League of Nations Health Organization, the predecessor of the World Health Organization (WHO). When global monitoring began, the primary focus was public health and information was gathered from annual questionnaires sent to countries’ Ministries of Health. These were often incomplete, varied considerably between reporting years, and were not independently verified (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8141). Since then, the UN and its development partners have launched numerous efforts both to set global targets and improve measurement of W&S performance. These efforts have included the UN Development Decade (1970s), the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1980s), the World Summit for Children (1990), the International Decade for Action: Water for Life (2005–2015), and the International Year of Sanitation (2008). When the MDGs were launched in 2000, water was included in Goal 7 (‘‘ensuring environmental sustainability”). Monitoring in the W&S sector has changed over time to reflect shifting priorities identified at various international summits.


International conventions have led to dozens of countries pledging support for improving water access, with examples including the Mar del Plata action plan in 1977 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Article 24 in 1990. The 1990 Summit established the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)’s monitoring of W&S resources in what would become the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP), administered by both WHO and UNICEF (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8141). Different stakeholders argued over how to frame the changing issues involved in global W&S tracking. During the drafting of MDG 7 in 2000, references to ‘‘affordability,” ‘‘sustainable access,” and ‘‘safe” drinking water were added, while sanitation was only added to the MDG 7 in 2002. The human right to water, referred to in the 1992 Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development, was included in the Millennium Declaration but not the MDG target itself (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8142). As these examples illustrate, goals and priorities in the W&S sector have been debated and reconfigured for decades. Since the SDGs have been designed to improve upon the MDGs, it is worth reviewing the successes and shortcomings of MDG Target 7.C. for water and sanitation. The United Nations established the MDGs in 2000 to set global targets regarding eight goals for poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality, communicable disease, education, gender inequality, environmental damage, and global partnership. The purpose of global targets was not always clear: some saw them as specific objectives to be taken literally, requiring significant increases in aid to achieve certain goals, while others viewed them as more nuanced tools to ‘‘generate discussion, focus attention and help assign accountability for leaders’ pledges” (Clemens, Kenny, & Moss, 2007, p. 747). In the W&S sector, the MDGs were not abstract goals, but rather specific targets around which the international community coalesced in terms of establishing priorities, benchmarking, and informing policy on other international issues. Goal 7, ‘‘ensuring environmental sustainability,” contained Target 7.C. to ‘‘halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water.” The JMP had been responsible for global W&S monitoring since 1990, and became the official recordkeeper for measuring progress toward Target 7.C. The MDGs, and the data compiled to measure progress for W&S, have been heavily used and greatly influential (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8143), as the MDGs became ‘‘the world’s central reference point for development cooperation” (Kamau et al., 2018, p. 23). If the MDGs were a kind of global report card, what grade did Target 7.C. receive? In 2015, the JMP announced that the target for safe drinking water had been met in 2010, five years ahead of schedule, and that over 90 percent of the global population had access to improved sources of drinking water and over 80 percent had access to improved sanitation facilities (UNICEF/WHO, 2015). Many water experts disagreed with this assessment. Critiques centered on definitions chosen, data collection and missing data, measurement and analysis strategies, and highly uneven progress across regions. The JMP measured W&S progress through household surveys, national censuses, and linear regression modeling of these results over time.1 These methods provided nationally representative and globally comparable findings, but contained numerous shortcomings that mischaracterized progress toward MDG goals. While some progress was achieved, the JMP data failed to accurately capture variation in W&S access across diverse local settings. The first critiques focused on the JMP’s definition of water access, which failed to account for water quality and thereby generated inaccurate estimates of safe water access. The JMP’s defini1 Household surveys and census data were improvement to prior methods where quality control had been deemed low, such as from compilation of national surveys from national ministries prior to 1997 (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8143).


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tion of ‘‘improved facilities” included access to protected springs, wells, public taps, and rainwater collection, instead of requiring the definition to refer only to piped water (UNICEF/WHO, 2015, p. 52). This definition sometimes led to major discrepancies between national-level data and JMP data. For example, in Tanzania, the JMP indicated 77 percent of the population had access to safe drinking water in 2005, while national data said the figure was 40 percent (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8154). If we accept that piped water is a more valid indicator of safe drinking water than protected springs, boreholes, and public taps, the MDG target success rate is much lower than the JMP claimed (Satterthwaite, 2016, p. 102). Simply put, the JMP guidelines did not allow for an explicit assessment of clean, safe potability, relying instead on household survey respondents’ judgments about whether their water was safe to drink (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8155). Since microbial contamination is not necessarily visible, we do not know how much water considered safe by JMP was actually contaminated. Researchers used microbial water quality data to adjust the JMP estimate for 2010 and found that 28 percent of the world’s population (1.8 billion) lacked access to safe drinking water (rather than the 783 million or 11 percent figure espoused by the JMP). Researchers adjusted the initial 1990 baseline of the global population without access to safe water from 23 percent to 37 percent, indicating that some progress had been made on water quality, but overall contamination was much higher than JMP figures suggested (Onda, LoBuglio, & Bartram, 2012, p. 880). Other studies have found similar problems with JMP data when more evidence about water quality is taken into account in countries such as Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan, Brazil, China, and Indonesia (Bain et al., 2012, p. 231; Martínez-Santos, 2017, pp. 519, 524). Studies show that the primary source of contamination is fecal matter, with 61% of the global population considered at least at moderate risk (>10 E. coli or TTC per 100 ml), and 10 percent may be at high risk (>100 E. coli or TTC per 100 ml). While water contamination is widespread, rural areas, and in particular Africa and Southeast Asia, face the highest risk (Bain et al., 2014, p. 917). If more thorough assessments of water quality and access had been included in the MDGs, the number of people without access to safe drinking water would have more than doubled.2 A second set of critiques suggested that the JMP’s reliance on water coverage, or the percentage of populations who report access to water, obscured other types of service failures likely experienced by millions. By focusing almost exclusively on water coverage, the JMP did not measure other key indicators of service quality—such as reliability of service (e.g. rates of intermittency). Studies suggest that intermittency is an important component of measuring water access, particularly in urban systems where reliability of service and water pressure are often low (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8158; Kumar, Post, & Ray, 2018, pp. 149, 151; MartínezSantos, 2017, p. 522). The JMP’s household surveys also assumed one water source per household rather than the ‘‘portfolio” of sources residents tend to use, depending on the season, rainfall levels, and types of use within households (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8156). These examples show how the JMP was not designed to capture local variation in water service quality, quantity, reliability, and ease of use. A third set of critiques emphasized shortcomings in the JMP’s data collection and analysis strategies. The JMP’s decision to gather data through household surveys was not accompanied by local capacity building. Governments are often not aware of the state of existing infrastructure and service quality, especially in rural areas (Nelson-Nuñez & Pizzi, 2018). Yet household survey admin-


See discussion in Satterthwaite (2016, p. 102).

istration was not accompanied by support to improve monitoring capacity of service provision within governments. While periodic household surveying was a breakthrough in the collection of comparable data, global monitoring under the MDGs did not include the creation of monitoring systems that fostered the participation of residents to report when infrastructure stops working. Many fluctuations—such as effect of dry seasons, flooding, and old age of infrastructure—was thus not incorporated into JMP estimates, further undermining confidence that JMP estimates accurately reflected water access conditions on the ground. Furthermore, the JMP’s modelling approaches were not designed to measure diverse rates of change across countries accurately, representing yet another example of the distance between global estimates and local realities. The JMP approach was to use nonlinear regression modeling, relying on coverage estimates to model progress through annual updates. Linear regressions cannot accurately model curved trajectories, and studies have shown that W&S trajectories are more likely to be ‘‘S-shaped,” with progress stalling at low levels of coverage, fast at intermediate stages, and slow again towards high levels. This approach was undermined further due to a low amount of data points that necessitated even more estimation. Researchers have found nonlinear trends for key indicators of Target 7.C to have been present in 14.7–38% of countries and have emphasized the need to improve estimates of nonlinear trends (Fuller, Goldstick, Bartram, & Eisenberg, 2016, p. 860). Similar definitional and measurement issues plagued JMP assessment of sanitation access and wastewater management during the period of MDG tracking. The JMP defined sanitation facilities to include a wide range of options such as septic tanks, pit latrines, flush toilets, and pour flush toilets, yet did not require these facilities to be connected to sewer systems to be counted as ‘‘improved.” For example, the JMP indicated in 2013 that 42.7 percent of Nigeria’s urban population had ‘‘improved sanitation,” but only 6.1 percent of this population was connected to a piped sewer system—an example of how ‘‘figures on coverage can change as definitions change” (Satterthwaite, 2016, p. 109). Other problems included household surveys containing respondent bias regarding open defecation, which likely overestimated sanitation coverage. In addition, a single rate of sanitation coverage was used for entire countries, obscuring potentially huge subnational variation (Bartram et al., 2014, p. 8156). Furthermore, the JMP was widely criticized for not including safe disposal of excreta in their definition of improved sanitation (e.g. Baum, Luh, & Bartram, 2013; Satterthwaite, 2016). There are a wide range of unsanitary and environmentally unsafe conditions that arise when toilets are not connected to safe excreta disposal, and therefore the definition chosen for measuring access to improved sanitation was highly misleading. In addition to the definitional and measurement problems that plagued the MDGs, what role did official development assistance contribute to improvements in the sector during this period? The impact of development assistance on developing W&S infrastructure is unclear; as government investments, grants and concession loans tend to play a large role (Bain, Luyendijk, & Bartram, 2013, p. 6). Nevertheless, official development assistance may have an impact in driving improvements in some settings, and large cross country analysis of aid impact in the sector have failed to systemically compare the effectiveness of assistance across aid projects, or the extent to which, for example, inequalities within countries, rural vs urban, rich vs poor, and between ethnic groups, have decreased due to targeted aid (Bain et al., 2013, p. 21). To the extent that aid may contribute to progress towards MDG goals, financing fell short of what was promised. Although total official development assistance rose from $US 71 billion in 2000 to $US 124 billion by 2014 (Kamau et al., 2018, p. 24), these figures were below what was needed. Some studies suggested that meet-

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ing all the MDGs would have required an annual global budget of $US 50 billion (Clemens et al., 2007, p. 735).3 For W&S, $US 26.6 billion in aid was provided between 2000 and 2010, but this amount was well below other social sectors, such as education and healthcare, and decreased over the decade as a proportion of total official development assistance despite the MDG targets for the sector during this time. For water supply alone the total amount disbursed in aid was just less than 2.5% of total spending (Bain et al., 2013, p. 11). Although aid in the sector continues to be unclearly linked to progress, to the extent that it may be a component of improvements in some settings, it is not encouraging that financing in the sector fell over time and was much lower than aid for other critical social spending, especially as W&S is so clearly linked to health outcomes, a sector that received much more assistance. These shortcomings resulted in mixed progress towards the MDG W&S target. Overall, the JMP reported that 96 percent of the global urban population and 84 percent of the rural population could access water from an improved source in 2015 (UNICEF/ WHO, 2015, p. 4). Rural water coverage increased considerably during this period, but growth in urban areas’ access to safe drinking water was stagnant, virtually cancelled out by population growth. Yet piped water figures for the urban population in these same countries is closer to 80 percent, and for rural populations it is 33% (UNICEF/WHO, 2015, p. 9). For least developed countries, 42 percent of the population gained access to improved water sources, but piped water coverage only increased from 7 to 12 percent during this period (UNICEF/WHO, 2015, pp. 4, 8). Clearly, not taking water quality into account and failure to require ‘‘improved water sources” to represent piped water access overestimated the amount of safe water availability in JMP monitoring of the MDGs. For sanitation, the MDG target was missed by 700 million people, as only 82 percent of the global urban population and 51 percent of the rural population used ‘‘improved” sanitation facilities by 2015 (UNICEF/WHO, 2015, p. 5). Yet improved facilities were not required to be connected to sewer systems, did not necessarily include safe disposal of excreta, and 638 million people were estimated to share otherwise improved facilities under conditions about which the JMP has very little available data (UNICEF/WHO, 2015, p. 15). Therefore, beyond the MDG target not being met for sanitation, the progress that was reported likely overstated improvements towards achieving sustainably managed sanitation service. We still know little about global sanitation treatment, as existing datasets are plagued by wide variation between different data sets, missing years, and the use of local level data from a small number of localities as proxies for national averages (Malik, Hsu, Johnson, & de Sherbinin, 2015, pp. 175–176). Progress, where it occurred, differed markedly between countries. Of the 215 tracked countries, progress toward piped water access could not be assessed in 65 countries due to missing data and 29 were OECD countries with nearly universal provision. Of the remaining 121 countries, 76 did not meet the target. Over three-quarters of the countries with low levels of provision are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Low- and low-middle income countries showed little improvement and some countries, despite economic growth in the past twenty-five years, actually went backward (Satterthwaite, 2016, pp. 103–106). Critics have taken the MDGs to talk for being narrowly conceived and executed. Proponents argued that the MDGs were kept simple on purpose, in order to make targets clear in many different contexts. Yet this approach proved limited, especially as it failed to consider broader societal factors, such as environmental issues, 3 Critics have argued that rich countries did not keep their development pledges. During negotiations, countries such as the United States fought to have the clause calling for 0.7% of GDP to be devoted to the MDGs gutted, and in any case never came close to meeting that goal (Conca, 2008, p. 221; Sachs, 2012, p. 2211).


national economic priorities, participation by key social groups, and developing countries’ capacities for governance. These shortcomings influenced the construction of the Sustainable Development Agenda and the new targets for SDG 6. 1.2. Evaluating the design of SDG 6 The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a paradigm shift in development cooperation. They replace a singular focus on poverty alleviation with one focused on broader sustainability as encompassed in three pillars: economic growth, environmental protection, and social inclusion. Notably, the SDGs are universal and also apply to developed countries. SDG 6 differs from the MDG Target 7.C. in that it broadens the scope of what is to be achieved and expands the number of actors and institutions that will facilitate progress. Its language—‘‘to ensure availability and sustainable management for water and sanitation for all”—is not fixed on numerical targets and emphasizes the integrated nature of water and sanitation and its link to sustainability. Rather than focus on separate issues, such as infrastructure or individual service access, SDG 6 seeks to promote comprehensive, sustainable change. Unlike the MDGs, which were designed as separate goals, SDG 6 is designed to encapsulate the systems approach since water access is directly or indirectly related to other key goals, including health, pollution reduction, ecosystem preservation, and water conservation (Kamau et al., 2018, pp. 172–174). SDG 6 has been devised to reflect lessons learned from the MDGs’ shortcomings. First, the SDGs are more attuned than the MDGs to countries’ unique circumstances. UN Water boasts that ‘‘countries are the ‘‘center and starting point for all monitoring.”4 International agencies will track global indicators, but individual countries are tasked with developing national targets that take their particular circumstances into account. Second, the updated W&S indicators (SDG 6.1.1 and 6.2.1) better capture variation towards progress in diverse settings. These first two targets include a much-needed emphasis on water quality, equity of access, and affordability, and allow for more finegrained tracking over time based on different starting points across countries. For example, a new scaled approach is used for measuring water access along the following spectrum: Safely managed service (located on the premises, free from contamination) > Basic service (protected source no more than thirty minutes away) > limited service (unprotected source no more than thirty minutes away > no service (surface water). Safely managed service and basic service correspond to the MDGs’ ‘‘improved drinking water source” and the latter two categories correspond to the MDGs’ ‘‘unimproved” category. A similar approach is applied for sanitation, where: Safely managed service > basic service > shared facilities > unimproved facilities > open defecation. The emphasis for sanitation is now that safely managed service requires toilets to be connected to safe disposal of excreta. Unlike the MDGs’ categorization of ‘‘improved” versus ‘‘unimproved” sources, a scaled approach creates multiple stages of differentiation that can capture gradual improvement across categories. This approach allows countries to measure progress based on their national conditions and initial baselines. Third, the JMP has also changed data collection procedures which will likely increase accuracy about local conditions. For example, the JMP is now coordinating with national regulatory agencies and local service providers to gather data that will complement household surveys and census data. As of 2017, the JMP

4 rq=custodian.


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notes that it has collected information regarding nearly five thousand sources from over one thousand countries.5 This method helps verify the accuracy of existing sources and fill missing data—both issues that plagued the MDGs. The JMP’s new relationship to wellestablished regulatory associations—such as the International Network of Drinking Water Regulators (RegNet), the Association of Water and Sanitation Regulators of the Americas (ADERASA) and the Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association (ESAWAS)—will help align JMP monitoring to norms used by many water utilities throughout the world for measuring piped water access quality. New indicators, such as drinking water quality and menstrual hygiene management, will require fundamentally new data collection strategies. To that end, the JMP is developing new household survey techniques that are harmonized across countries—including measuring access in schools and hospitals, and adding new survey questions on topics such as time spent gathering water. 6Nevertheless, some of the issues for which the MDG has been criticized—for example, the linear regression estimations—remain. Fourth, SDG 6 broadens the scope of water management to include all aspects of the hydrologic cycle and its diverse uses across various sectors. Table 1 outlines SDG 6’s design—which features six ‘‘outcome” targets (6.1–6.6), and two ‘‘means of implementation” targets (6.A. and 6.B). The first two targets replicate MDG Target 7.C. for W&S access, and Target 6.3, a new critical addition, highlights the importance of the entire sanitation chain and wastewater treatment. Targets 6.3–6.6 focus on diverse components of the hydrologic cycle, such as water management for reducing pollution, ensuring sustainable withdrawals of water, implementing integrated resources management across diverse sectors and geopolitical boundaries, and the restoration of waterrelated ecosystems. Data for the eleven indicators will be gathered by national and regional partners as discussed earlier, and compiled by international custodian agencies, which are diverse international organizations charged with housing global data sets for each target. This ambitious set of indicators cover all facets of water use and require extensive coordination with international custodian agencies not previously involved in global water monitoring. Thus, most of the data collection plans and metrics for 6.3–6.6 are still under construction, but some established organizations like the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N., Aquastat, have collected data over time and established data collection plans.7 The new targets for SDG 6 are laudable and address many of the MDGs’ definitional issues regarding W&S access. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a potential water-related indicator that was not included. The targets’ integrated nature reflect the more participatory process that occurred during the SDG design deliberations, which was notable for its engagement with leaders, NGOs and civil society organizations in the Global South (Kamau et al., 2018, p. Chapter 5). Broadening the scope of what is tracked within SDG 6 is a welcome change, but doing so also introduces complexity and challenges with which governments, particularly local ones, may struggle. These challenges are reflected in the newly created means of implementation (MOI) targets. All SDGs have MOI targets, and although they include important components of implementation that were absent in the MDG framework (e.g. capacity building, integrated financial instruments, technology transfers, and


See See 7 For more on the new custodian agencies involved in UN Water monitoring and integrated custodian agency systems for tracking, see http://www.sdg6monitoring. org/about/components/presenting-gemi/ and 6

national enabling environments), some analysts worry that the MOIs are too broad and poorly conceptualized, and because they entail complex processes that are not easily quantifiable, will be difficult to track (Bartram, Brocklehurst, Bradley, Muller, & Evans, 2018, p. 1). In particular, Target 6b, to ‘‘support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving W&S management,” will be measured by the proportion of local administrative units with established procedures for community participation in W&S. Bartram et al rightly stress that this measure is incomplete at best, and that it fails to acknowledge the importance of the right to information, the role of users in decision-making and the potentially heavy onus that could be placed on the poorest in rural areas under the auspices of ‘‘community management” (Bartram et al., 2018, p. 3). Local governments throughout the developing world are front and center in the challenge of managing water and sanitation, but despite the redesign of global monitoring in SDG 6, local governance challenges continue to be poorly understood and insufficiently incorporated into debates about how to achieve global monitoring success. SDG architects have acknowledged that governance is important (UN Water, 2018, p. 7), yet they have provided little further direction about what types of local governance challenges are central and how they will impact SDG 6. The following section considers some of these issues.

2. Barriers to effective implementation: Local realities and contradictions within SDG 6 Lack of attention to local determinants of water governance is problematic and long-standing. Previous global monitoring efforts relied almost exclusively on information from national governments. This is understandable; it is much easier for global monitors to access federal agencies than to coordinate with numerous regional or local governments within countries. Furthermore, the historical importance of federal water management throughout much of the world in the mid twentieth century, influenced by the USbased Tennessee Valley Authority model of major federal infrastructure investment and construction (Ekbladh, 2002), suggests that the federal level is primarily where decisions in the sector are often made. However, relying on national gatekeepers makes global monitoring overly dependent on institutions that typically do not deliver W&S service. Herrera and Post survey find that services have been formally decentralized in at least 41 developing countries, concluding that ‘‘by the end of the reform wave, most developing countries managed W&S at the subnational level or shared responsibilities between national and subnational governments” (2014, pp. 624–626). Decentralization has been promoted by numerous international aid programs and conventions, both for W&S services and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) decentralization efforts to administer water at the basin level (Conca, 2006, pp. 123–165). Although the trend towards decentralization increased after the 1980s, the JMP developed monitoring systems that relied heavily on data collection through national ministries and agencies. The implications of this disconnect became evident as data gathered locally was revealed in many cases to differ from figures published by national reporting agencies. Bartram et al noted that when the JMP method relied only on provider-based data, ‘‘the national agencies that were the sources of data. . .were . . .less wellinformed about the proportion of water and sanitation facilities actually functioning or in use, [or] services delivered or managed by local government in smaller towns and cities. . .” (2014, p. 8151). Case studies further reveal the extent of this disconnect. For example, in Mexico, national W&S performance data is not


V. Herrera / World Development 118 (2019) 106–117 Table 1 SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Target



International custodian agencies


By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

6.1.1 Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services



By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation

6.2.1 Proportion of population using a) safely managed sanitation services, b) including a hand-washing facility with soap and water



By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

6.3.1 Proportion of wastewater safely treated 6.3.2 Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality

UN-Habitat and DESA-UNS WHO (JMP also contributes data) UNEP

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

6.4.1 Change in water-use efficiency over time


6.4.2 Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources

FAO (Aquastat)

By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate

6.5.1. Degree of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) Implementation


6.5.2 Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation





By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes

6.6.1 Change in extent of water-related ecosystems over time



By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacitybuilding support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs

6.a.1 Amount of water- and sanitation-related official assistance that is part of government-coordinated spending plan



By 2030, support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

6.b.1 Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management



independently verified and may contradict local level realities, where infrastructure may be in disrepair or not operating for financial reasons, despite national coverage data suggesting the opposite (Herrera, 2014, p. 20; Jacobo & Sepúlveda., 2015). National level data may differ substantially from local level realities, especially in decentralized systems. In the following section, I review the actors, institutions and challenges of managing W&S services at the local level. I first review local policymaking issues likely to confront implementation of SDG 6 targets, before examining potential internal conflicts within SDG 6 related to the concurrent goals of boosting both private sector involvement and citizen participation. 2.1. Partisan interventions and public administration challenges The task of implementing SDG 6 targets will be overseen by elected officials whose decision-making priorities are often based on electoral incentives rather than technical or programmatic criteria. Electoral incentives either directly or indirectly determine the provision of W&S services in many young democracies of the Global South, which are up to 116 in 2018 (Freedom House, 2018). It is not uncommon for political operatives, brokers, and local council people to reward favored neighborhoods with water access, either directly or indirectly exchanging access to constituents for electoral support. Clientelism, or the exchange of material services and benefits for the vote (Hicken, 2011), thrives in the water sector. The exchange of access to water service for political support has been documented, for example, in Ghana (Hirvi & Whitfield, 2015), India (De & Nag, 2016), Kenya (Nilsson

& Nyangeri Nyanchaga, 2008, p. 150), Tanzania (Carlitz, 2017), and Mexico (Herrera, 2017). Politicians benefit politically from taking partisan credit for water-related infrastructure, leading to suboptimal practices that are not technically sound. For example, politicians engage in direct, politicized brokering of water access requests that bypasses utility engineers’ plans or promote unnecessary new construction instead of maintaining existing infrastructure (Davis, 2004, pp. 65–66; Herrera & Post, 2014, p. 622). These decisions weaken water infrastructure over time and exacerbate politicized control of water. Ruling parties at higher levels of government may also direct more water resources to party members at the local level (Carlitz, 2017; Herrera, 2017), and levels of government run by different political parties may be slow to coordinate during water-related crises, as happened during the 2018 water crisis in Capetown, South Africa, or the 2011 flooding crisis in Bangkok, Thailand. Although fewer studies have examined water politics in autocratic settings, some existing studies document that rent-seeking elites also manipulate water access for political ends (e.g. Blaydes, 2013). Local public utilities operating in highly clientelist or rentseeking political settings tend to have a myriad of public administration challenges. When services are administered at the local level, elected officials often appoint directors and managers based on patronage rather than merit (Herrera, 2017, p. 7; Krause, 2009, pp. 118, 159–160). Elected officials often use local government appointments as a reward for political allies. This can lead to high turnover, as managers change with each election. Consequently, long-term projects lack continuity, institutional memory is lost, and maintenance of existing infrastructure suffers. Frequent turn-


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over in municipal government is often cited as a key factor in lowquality water services and low-quality government more broadly (Clingermayer & Feiock, 2001; Nelson-Nuñez & Cartwright, 2018, p. 91; Pineda Pablos & Briseño Ramírez, 2012). Human capital development may suffer even when personnel turnover is not endemic, because civil service professionalization and training is limited at the local level (Herrera, 2014, p. 18). Human resources development is particularly problematic in rural settings and in some peri-urban communities, settings where it may be difficult to pay competitive salaries for skilled managers and engineers. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that corruption is endemic in the water sector. Public officials frequently engage in petty corruption, as utility workers exhort bribes for facilitating connections or processing bill payments (Asthana, 2008, p. 184; Davis, 2004). Higher-level corruption is also common, particularly in construction and procurement, and the water sector provides the sorts of large-scale projects—with ad-hoc purchases of land and supplies—that are particularly conducive to graft (Anbarci, Escaleras, & Register, 2009, pp. 366–367; Asthana, 2008, p. 184; Davis, 2004, pp. 57–60; Kenny, 2009). Corruption undermines water systems’ financial sustainability and also erodes governments’ capacity to improve services. Effective implementation of SDG 6 depends on the political and institutional capacity for governments to undertake regulatory tasks to protect public health, environment, and consumers. Yet governments’ ability to regulate both public and private utilities has been limited, as regulatory authorities, where they exist, often suffer from the same institutional weaknesses described earlier. Federal agencies are charged with environmental regulation (e.g., monitoring water quality and freshwater pollution) and economic regulation (e.g., monitoring equitable consumer tariffs and subsidies). They are also often responsible for assuring water quality for tankers and bottled water, a need which continues to grow but is rarely met as agencies have few resources to monitor the ever-expanding informal water market. Economists view government regulation of public sector service provision as a ‘‘poacher-gamekeeper problem,” but regulatory oversight of private utilities is also often weak (Davis, 2005, pp. 162–164), and is likely to favor industry interests over citizen’s rights, as the next section illustrates. These are the institutions and actors that make the majority of decisions surrounding water allocation, and they are also responsible for collecting data on water utility performance for SDG 6. When personnel turnover is high and human capital development is low—especially in the fields of data analysis, finances, and administration—it is difficult to produce high-quality information about water sector performance. The large amount of missing data on water performance in the MDGs, and especially sanitation treatment statistics, reflectes the underinvestment in data management training in the water sector and the failure to retain qualified personnel able to manage data collection. For rural water provision, this problem is particularly acute. While reducing corruption and improving regulatory oversight are major challenges, there are intermediate steps that can facilitate implementation of SDG 6. For example, bilateral assistance to boost local data collection over time and across different political jurisdictions would help. 2.2. What role for the private sector? SDG architects envision that the private sector will play a role in implementing SDG 6 (UN Water, 2018, pp. 9, 14), but studies on private sector participation (PSP) in the sector suggest that institutional and governance challenges are likely to arise, and that augmenting the role of the private sector may conflict with other SDG priorities. While PSP has decreased since the 2000s, it continues to play an important role in services provision in some settings. In the last

three decades, PSP has been one of several reforms promoted by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to address public sector governance challenges in W&S. In addition to various forms of private sector involvement, related reforms include corporatization, which legally and fiscally ring-fences utilities from political oversight (Herrera & Post, 2014; McDonald, 2016). These marketoriented reforms were intended to depoliticize public water provision, and in the case of private sector involvement, inject much needed capital investment into the sector. Some issues of private sector involvement stem from two seemingly contradictory goals present in the sector since at least the establishment of the 1992 Dublin Principles: the economic valuation of water on the one hand and the human right to water on the other. Proponents of the economic valuation of water argued that markets would reduce water consumption, improve water security, and alleviate other problems such as water-borne illnesses and food insecurity. Market mechanisms include the use of markets for water allocation, water pricing to signal scarcity, or partial or full privatization (through lease, management, or concession contracts).8 IFIs argue that private-sector service provision could address urban water management problems discussed earlier, like bloated bureaucracies, inadequate training of staff, politically-motivated pricing, and deteriorating infrastructure. Private capital would help utilities boost infrastructure development, extend coverage, and provide services to the poor. Buoyed by IFIs’ strong advocacy, private-sector management of utilities swept through several middle-income countries in recent decades. By 2014, 295 concessions, 29 divestitures, 317 greenfield projects, and 127 management or lease contracts had been implemented in developing countries, most of them at the local level (Herrera & Post, 2014, p. 632). Proponents and opponents disagree both on the method with which to compare provider performance and the extent of gains achieved (Bakker, 2018, p. 410). In some settings, private utilities increased utility performance, as measured by operational independence (Herrera & Post, 2014, p. 633), operational efficiency (e.g. water losses), staff to connection ratios, bill collection rates (Marin, 2009), and increased capital investment (Davis, 2005, pp. 162–163). Overall, privatization’s record has been mixed. While some gains have been made, improvements have mostly occurred in middle-income countries and been concentrated in cities with middle- and high-income residents. Private-sector contracts that improve services for the poor, particularly in low-income or politically unstable countries, have been limited (Bakker, 2018, p. 410). The Global Financial Crisis of 2008–9 is partly to blame as multinational companies subsequently opted for lower-risk contracts. SDG 6 indicates the need to increase funding and financing options for improving water access. Yet there are few precedents of private, multinational firms making capital investments in low-income markets as these markets are not typically profitable (Budds & McGranahan, 2003, pp. 109–111). While private contracts, according to some accounts, have had some successes in countries such as Chile, Colombia and China (Marin, 2009), they have been less tenable in the types of low-income and politically fragile countries that lagged behind during the MDG period. Determining the appropriate role for the private sector is surely a question of scale, fit, and context. New technologies in wastewater management may open up doors for new companies to address water quality issues in a financially viable manner. The private sector also provides software programs and infrastructure innovations that are critical for addressing a wide range of water-sector needs. However, the question of whether firms should become a key

8 These models have received extensive treatment in the literature (e.g. Bakker, 2010, 2018, p. 409; Davis, 2005; Marin, 2009).

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player in urban water provision must be answered by citizens who live in the communities in question. Yet studies suggest that these two SDG 6 goals—increasing both private sector involvement and stakeholder participation—are in tension and will likely remain so in low-income and politically unstable settings.

2.3. Protests, mobilization, and the struggle to participate SDG 6.B envisions an increased role for community participation in water management, yet prior experiences suggest that augmenting participation has been a major challenge and can have unintended consequences. While community participation over water decision-making takes many forms, in most cases, citizens struggle to make their voices heard. While SDG 6.B envisions greater participation, to date, citizens have largely participated via protests and other forms of mass mobilization as opposed to formal, delegated seats at the policymaking table. Citizens have mobilized against water privatization, rejecting increasing water bills, elimination of clandestine connections, installation of prepaid meters, discontinuation of water services for nonpayment, private companies’ failures to meet service extension targets, and in extreme cases, such as in Bolivia in 2000, private concessionaires outlawing of rain collection. Bakker documents thirty-eight anti-privatization protest episodes in developing countries prior to the mid 2000s, but there are many more, as case studies in Nicaragua and Belize, to give a few examples, illustrate (Bakker, 2010, pp. 140–141; Mustafa & Reeder, 2009; Romano, 2012). Some of the most dramatic rejections of water privatization have been in settings with broader political and economic instability. Although attempts to privatize urban water services have slowed, communities continue to rally against these initiatives. Large-N quantitative studies on water conflicts fail to identify a consistent link between water scarcity and increasing conflict (Raleigh, 2018, p. 559). Instead, case studies show that social conflicts are more likely when ‘‘business as usual” forms of water allocation, and the underlying power distribution that undergirds them, are disrupted. Residents may mobilize during episodes of drought or flooding (e.g. Hendrix & Salehyan, 2012) the introduction of prepaid meters (e.g. Smith, 2004), unexpected tariff increases (e.g. Herrera, 2017), or against imminent threats to water contamination (Urkidi & Walter, 2011). Therefore, protests are less likely to emerge against long-standing practices of clientelism or corruption, but instead when established forms of water access are threatened. How do communities fare when they participate within established policymaking processes for water management? Studies suggest that there are sometimes more opportunities to build good water management in rural settings due to their smaller scale, lower number of residents, and the government’s smaller footprint in daily life (for better or worse). When Latin American indigenous peoples with deliberative traditions are able to lead decisionmaking over water access, it can lead to more equitable water allocation. In some settings, indigenous laws and customs can produce better public services, because they are ‘‘voluntary, mutually agreed-on and accepted within a given social context, and not imposed by an external actor” (Perreault, 2008, p. 839). These traditions can substitute for partisan oversight, and therefore reduce the propensity for partisan capture in highly clientelist settings. For example, indigenous customary norms have facilitated improved public services in municipalities in Oaxaca, Mexico (Díaz-Cayeros, Magaloni, & Ruiz-Euler, 2014) and aided in irrigators mobilization around small-scale water rights in the highlands of Bolivia (Perreault, 2008). In contrast, when community water projects are implemented from the outside and do not have grass-


roots support, they are likely to fail, as case studies in Chile (Garande & Dagg, 2005) and Mali (Jones, 2011) illustrate. Yet scholarship on rural water governance suggests that many poor, rural communities benefit from more, not less, support from government and other allies. Rural communities—even those with extensive experience in community water management—benefit tremendously from supportive allies who can provide material resources, information, and access to influential decisionmakers. Rural water committees in Nicaragua, for example, helped shape national water policy legislation only after being linked to lawmakers and public officials through NGOs (Romano, 2017). When the state is fully absent or fails to properly regulate water provision, rural communities may struggle with water contamination as was the case in Rajasthan, India (O’Reilly & Dhanju, 2012), or low levels of experience, information and financing, as a case study from Tanzania indicates (Jiménez & Pérez-Foguet, 2010). One study found that when international organizations created boreholes throughout the countryside in Peru, these projects received little post-construction support for training and maintenance. Combined with a large-N study, this research finds that bureaucratic effectiveness and regulatory strength, rather than citizen participation, matter most for improving water access for the rural poor (NelsonNuñez & Pizzi, 2018). Thus while participation is an important goal, so too are technical and fiscal training, long-term planning, and monitoring. Participatory arrangements for river basins further illustrate the challenges of collaboration between citizens and government officials in water management. Since the riverbasin is a ‘‘natural unit,” it does not map out evenly onto political jurisdictions, pitting riverbasin organizations against government officials in other jurisdictions who have a stake in influencing water allocation patterns. Even though decentralized riverbasin management arrangements may mandate citizen participation, in many settings state officials unilaterally control decision-making, as case studies in Mexico and South Africa illustrate (Wester, Merrey, & De Lange, 2003). Studies of riverbasin management in Brazil show how professional networks can build synergies with technocrats, pool resources, and influence basin policymaking over time (Abers & Keck, 2013, p. 19; Lemos & de Oliveira, 2004). In these cases, ongoing leadership from civil society leaders, professional associations, and activist technocrats within government can facilitate collaboration. Of course, citizen participation should not be viewed as a panacea. Citizen responses can be limited due to apathy or misinformation, or unrepresentative of the broader community. Citizen initiated processes, such as referendums, can also problematize long term policymaking, and generate inconsistent decisionmaking over time or complicate negotiations between governments (Mostert, 2003, pp. 181–182). Participation can also lead actors to block reforms that could lead to more financially sound water management (Abers & Keck, 2013, pp. 102–108). Participatory institutions for water management can also fall prey to partisan capture and thus serve as paper institutions controlled by political elites (Herrera, 2017). These are just some examples that suggest that community involvement can have unintended consequences. While international development agencies have touted the importance of increasing participation, achieving effective and autonomous community participation continues to be challenging. If SDG 6.B is to be realized, local governments and communities need material, informational, and organizational support in order to boost effective participation on the ground. There are practical steps that could be implemented more systematically in waterrelated projects designed to advance SDG 6. Residents would benefit from supportive rule changes promoting more participation and material resources to organize more effectively. For example, mandating the participation of key stakeholders (like women) in


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water projects can provide room for residents who are most involved in water decision-making. Providing grassroots organizations with resources for riverbasin organizing can help create a more equitable playing field between residential water users and government officials. Citizens who struggle to participate find that they have less power, information, and resources than government officials, but the international development community can help level that playing field by being more attuned to these issues that go well beyond simple rule changes and invest in capacity building. 3. Barriers to effective SDG 6 implementation: Contradictions across Goals The SDGs are both broad and interdependent. While ambitious and inclusive forms of international cooperation goal-setting are laudable, the inclusion of so many different goals without a hierarchical sense of priorities and without reference to inherent contradictions is likely to inhibit effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda. MDG Target 7.C. was imperfectly executed, but it did provide a blueprint around which to build improvements for SDG 6.1. and 6.2 relating to W&S services. However, the new SDG 6.3–6.6 targets such as those related to improving water quality, ensuring sustainable withdrawals of freshwater, protecting water related ecosystems, and boosting community participation, do not have a precedent in the MDGs and their implementation is likely to have unintended consequences. This section examines the potential conflicts that may arise as other goals in the Sustainable Development Agenda interact with one another as well as the latter SDG 6 targets. 3.1. SDG 7: Clean energy How might implementing SDG 7—ensuring access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy—conflict with other SDG priorities? While clean energy markets are generally associated with improvements to the environment, they are not without their challenges, especially during the development phase. Hydroelectric dams, and conflicts surrounding their construction, provide an illustrative example of the contradictions of clean energy. Hydroelectric dams are difficult to site but once constructed, can create renewable energy for decades. Proponents argue that hydroelectric power is not only critical for expanding weak electricity markets, but also serves as a boon to local economies—providing electrification, roads, and infrastructure to rural communities, as well as expanded tax bases for local governments. Opponents insist that the socio-environmental costs of hydrodams—including deforestation, threats to the economic livelihoods of local communities, and the costs of these communities’ resettlement—are too high. Other externalities can include downstream impacts of changed river flow, erosion, and reduced fish catches. These problems can become more pronounced when dams are slated for construction in indigenous communities, on ancestral lands, or when impacted communities are not consulted. Case studies have documented the environmental damages and infringement on community rights that often occur during dam siting. For example, the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon Basin has been fraught with social conflicts since it was first proposed in the mid 1970s under military rule. It has been opposed by indigenous groups and international allies who have argued that deforestation caused by the project would negatively impact the environment and local communities’ livelihoods. In the 1990s, a broad array of groups affected by dam construction across Brazil created the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB) to seek justice for impacted communities. As the Belo Monte Dam construction took off in the early 2000s, activists blocked work-

sites, the public prosecutor brought cases challenging licensing processes, protestors faced beatings, and one activist was assassinated (Conca, 2006, pp. 289–294; McCormick, 2006, pp. 339– 340). Mobilization continued into the late 2000s, but consultation with local communities regarding the hydroelectric project began only after construction was well underway. Injunctions halted the project several times due to concerns about lack of competitive bidding and failure to consult with impacted communities (Hochstetler, 2011, pp. 359–360). Although the benefits from clean energy would be significant nationwide and reforestation could occur in other parts of the basin, the local community is paying a high price for achieving these goals. As one activist noted, ‘‘No money would repay my life of work, with lots of suffering and sweat. I am not willing to leave here for other land where I would start again. . .” (as cited in Hochstetler, 2011, p. 362). Similar dynamics are evident even in nondemocratic settings. Mertha (2008) documents bottom-up opposition to hydroelectric dam projects in China in the 2000s. Intense protests, such as those surrounding the Pubugou Dam in Sichuan province that were reportedly the largest rural protests since the founding of the People’s Republic, did not sway public officials to halt construction. Though not impossible, grassroots victories are rare, and many dams slated for construction in the developing world do not heed the concerns of local communities or generate sufficient benefits for them. One observer noted that ‘‘although [poor farmers] lived close to the dams, they did not have access to its water and relied on infrequent rains for drinking water. And power lines passed over their villages without sharing the electricity generated” (as cited in Mertha, 2008, p. 31). Studies have shown similar dynamics of participatory resistance with uneven results in other Chinese hydrodam projects (Wilmsen & Webber, 2017). The Chinese government continues to provide positive and upbeat statements about hydroelectric dam projects, but many resettled residents continue to live in poverty after losing their access to high-yield farmlands. Developing clean energy can benefit populations in developing countries in the long run, but it can also compromise other SDG goals. SDG 7 (regarding clean energy) may problematize other SDGs, such as those promoting the protection of water related ecosystems (SDG 6.6), people’s rights to decent work (SDG 8) or the development of sustainable communities (SDG 11). As hydroelectric dam conflicts illustrated, these projects impact not only the environment but also local communities’ participatory rights. And while SDG 6.B emphasizes participatory governance and community consultation related to water management, the examples discussed here illustrate how difficult it is for citizens to have their concerns heard. 3.2. SDG Goal 9: Industrial development Industrial growth is the cornerstone of economic development. Industry creates jobs, GDP growth, and tax bases that can fund social programs. Advancing SDG 9—boosting industry, innovation and infrastructure—is therefore a critical aspect of creating sustainable economies and societies. Yet rapid industrial development, often occurring within weak regulatory environments, has created systemic and widespread environmental and health problems. This pits SDG 9 against other goals that relate to water quality and public health. For one, river pollution from industrial dumping in rapidly urbanizing environments presents a major threat to water security and more broadly, to SDG 6.3 (reducing water pollution). The Yamuna River, for example, flows through Delhi and impacts the lives of 100 million people throughout northern India. Covered with industrial chemical foam, floating plastic, and human waste, each 100 ml contain 22 million fecal coliform bacteria, up from

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12,250 in 1988. For the more than 5 million slum dwellers in Delhi that are most directly affected, illnesses related to exposure to the polluted water and eating greens grown on the riverbank create many health problems, from diarrhea to brain worms (Pokharel & Rana, 2017). In addition to unplanned urbanization in Delhi, rapid industrialization has taken a high toll, and lax enforcement of laws regulating arsenic, zinc, and mercury has created a toxic pool of blackwaters. One water board member summed up the situation by noting, ‘‘You will find every law in Delhi, but no enforcement” (McCarthy, 2016). One of the causes of this environmental crisis is that Delhi, like many developing country cities, has deregulated industries and ignored water pollution standards in order to attract investment (Dupont, 2011, pp. 534–537; Rajaram & Das, 2008). Perhaps because it is less immediately visible than air pollution, water pollution is a rapidly growing consequence of industrialization throughout the developing world, and regulatory measures designed to minimize environmental and health damage are simply not enforced. Urban riverbasin pollution is increasing in diverse settings. The Medellín River in Colombia, with a population of over 3.3 million inhabitants, faces many of the same issues as the Yamuna River: industrial contamination, residential sewage outlays, and solid waste dumping have turned portions of the river into an open sewer. In previous decades, there was a government agency devoted to managing the riverbasin, which concentrated expertise and some oversight, although strategies to manage pollution, such as polluter tax controls, had limited impact (Brand, 2001, p. 16; Cardona, 2010). The Interamerican Development Bank has helped finance a $581.5 million sanitation treatment plant and a river remediation project for Medellín which began in 2008 and has not yet been fully completed. However, there is measurable progress, including the completion of a major treatment plant slated to open in 2018 that will eventually help elevate the oxygen content of 80 percent of the river (EPM, 2018; IADB, 2008). These changes have occurred alongside broader institutional and political reforms in Medellín, including pollution remediation by the EPM of Medellín, one of Latin America’s most highly regarded water utilities. Prospects for reducing pollution or remediating rivers in settings with less propitious institutional and political settings seem daunting. Many of the problems that make river cleanup challenging are the same as those that make industrial regulation difficult. The promise of job creation, increased tax bases, and other economic benefits often outweigh the environmental and health consequences of industrial development. In both Delhi and Medellín, collective action problems abound as dozens of government agencies are responsible for regulating pollution and cleaning up the community’s river. Split and uncoordinated responsibility between government agencies allows polluters to continue jeopardizing collective health. SDGs related to industrialization (SDG 9 for industry and SDG 8 for decent work and economic growth), then, will be difficult to reconcile with SDG 3 regarding human health or SDG 6.3 regarding water quality.

4. Addressing local realities and contradictions in global water and sanitation monitoring Global monitoring of W&S is not a panacea, but it can provide a number of benefits. Global monitoring can create credible information that outlives ever changing informational gatekeepers at the country level. Global data can serve as benchmarking, showing countries with similar characteristics the types of metrics that are within reach, and pinpoint problem areas that can focus development assistance priorities and spur targeted financing to address


them. Global monitoring targets can also provide domestic policymakers cover for taking politically unpopular decisions. Yet setting global aspirations is not enough. To change ‘‘business as usual,” global monitoring efforts should be informed by context and past experiences and incorporate local actors responsible for implementing reforms into the decision-making process. Understanding and incorporating local context is critical for SDG 6 because subnational governments administer W&S services in at least 41 developing countries. Yet previous global monitoring efforts have relied almost exclusively on national governments, as international agencies have only coordinated with federal ministries for performance information or census sampling frames. Relying on national gatekeepers means global monitors are often not in contact with the level of government that is actually administering water service. Central governments may have limited accurate information about the conditions under which services are being delivered. This arrangement not only limits our ability to understand what the key challenges to governance are, but also leads to poor quality data. In order to help bridge the gap between global goals and local realities, this article reviewed the factors surrounding SDG 6 for W&S and two main facets of implementing these new targets. The first set of issues surrounding implementation involve local governance problems that hamper reforms, such as partisan intervention, poor human capital development, corruption, and regulatory failures. After reviewing these issues, the article examined experiences with reforms intended to improve governance in the sector. By examining prior experiences with governance challenges in Latin America, Africa and Asia, this article stressed the local factors that are likely to influence the implementation of SDG Goal 6. For example, is it possible to simultaneously increase both societal participation and private-sector involvement in water management, both of which are emphasized in SDG 6? How can international agencies work with local actors to boost administrative and regulatory capacity to both enhance service provision and improve data collection? Working more directly with local governments is important, as they are involved not only in administering services and collecting data, but also in opening or closing spaces for citizen participation in water governance. These are tall orders that have challenged development agencies and scholars for decades, yet small changes can improve various larger initiatives occurring at multiple levels of government. For example, SDG architects could structure bilateral assistance to build local data collection capacities over time and across different political jurisdictions. Or they could arrange for portions of bilateral assistance to be designated to provide resources to help citizens participate more effectively in water governance. Small sums for organizing events, conducting surveys, or even bus fare for trips to government offices could make a big difference. These are just some examples of how global monitoring efforts and bilateral assistance could be targeted toward improving local W&S governance. This article analyzed a second set of issues surrounding the SDGs and W&S, centered on how broad-ranging reforms like the SDGs may pull in different directions and have either unintended negative consequences or simply be impossible to implement. A review of two types of development objectives centered around water sector issues— hydroelectric dam construction and the dumping of industrial wastewater—illustrated the tensions between different SDGs. These illustrative cases from Brazil, China, India, and Colombia suggest that it may be necessary to prioritize between goals or stagger the timing of their implementation. Local policymakers would benefit from further guidance about how to manage contradictions and conflicts that often occur when multiple goals are implemented simultaneously.


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