UN-Water set of key indicators

The Task Force report proposed a set of 15 quantitative ‘key indicators’ to provide a snapshot of the water sector.

See table.

While those indicators do not allow in-depth analysis of issues, they serve their intended purpose of providing more global data on the world’s critical water issues.

A dynamic process:

The proposed list of indicators is neither final nor exhaustive; it will evolve as knowledge develops and data availability improves. Ultimately, the list is expected to include key indicators relevant to either particular issues (such as water quality) or the effectiveness of water use practices (i.e. agriculture, cities and industries).

The indicators correspond to varying degrees of policy relevance and policy priorities for different countries. They can only be interpreted in context and must be complemented with country-specific information to acquire their full meaning.

Use for global reporting:

The collective purpose of UN-Water is to monitor the performance of the water sector from a sustainable development perspective. UN-Water also follows a set of objectives related to specific aspects of water management and related Millennium Development Goals (particularly MDG 7), which also require performance assessments.


Four categories of indicators can be used to better understand the water sector – context, functioning, governance and performance. 

  • Context Some indicators relate to physical aspects of the resource (e.g. water availability or rainfall), whereas others focus on areas such as infrastructure (e.g. water treatment capacity or storage) or human and economic resources. ‘Context indicators’ are required to establish benchmarks when assessing achievements in different categories within a comparable context.
  • Functioning This category zooms in on inputs, outputs and outcomes (e.g. water use intensity) to describe the dynamic functioning of the water sector at the national level (e.g. water withdrawals, water depletion or wastewater actually treated).
  • Governance A set of governance indicators is required to assess the level of performance achieved in different categories and to identify possible weak spots in water management for further development and reform.
  • Performance Performance assessment evaluates the functioning of the sector in relation to its objectives and within a given context. Efficiency/productivity, effectiveness and impact are all key issues that need to be considered (e.g. in relation to access to water supply and sanitation, or value added in agriculture/industry).


The implicit geographical scale adopted by UN-Water is the national level, although some indicators could be monitored at other levels if required to develop more detailed assessments (such as at the regional, basin or local level) or for benchmarking purposes (for example, at the level of individual cities, irrigation schemes or industries).


The indicators should be updated regularly (every one to five years, according to the data set).


The indicators build on the databases of UN-Water members and partners, updated with information provided by Member States or by internal United Nations or other international or regional sources (including the OECD, Eurostat, the European Environmental Agency, Blue Plan/MAP/UNEP).

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