Sustainable Development Goals

The Nordic Countries and SDG 6: Clean Water

This data tracker looks at how the Nordic countries are progressing towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, using the latest official data from the UN and the OECD.

Adopted in 2015 by all United Nations (UN) members, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a global agenda for making the world a better place by 2030. They are described by the UN as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet‘, and goals are to be achieved by all countries, in global partnership, by 2030.

This data tracker uses the latest official data to look at how the Nordic countries are progressing towards achieving the 17 SDGs, with this page looking closer at Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Each target is presented by first looking at global trends, before zooming in on the Nordic countries and assessing their performance. The assessment is based on work by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in analysing the progress made toward the SDGs in all OECD countries.

Target 6.1

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


6.1.1Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services

Global trends

From 2000 to 2020, the share of the world population using safely managed drinking water services increased from 62% to 74%.

Safely managed drinking water services are defined by the UN as:

Drinking water from an improved water source which is located on premises, available when needed and free from faecal and priority chemical contamination. Improved water sources include piped water, boreholes or tubewells, protected dug wells, protected springs and packaged or delivered water.

Although access to safe drinking water is increasing, 2 billion people are still without such services. The UN estimates that the current pace of progress needs to quadruple to meet the target in 2030 of universal access for all. If current trends continue, 1.6 billion will still be without safely managed drinking water in 2030.

Regionally the situation is most pressing in Sub-Saharan Africa, where only 1 of 3 people have access to safely managed drinking water services.

Note that the regional groupings used in the visualisation above (and all other visualisations on this page with regional data) follow the UN regional classification for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Nordics

All the Nordic countries have full access to safely managed drinking water services, and have already achieved the target for 2030.

Target 6.2

By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations


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

Global trends

Progress has been made in increasing the share of the world population using safely managed sanitation services. As of 2020, 54% of the world's population has access to safely managed sanitation services compared to 29% in 2000 and 47% in 2015.

Such services are defined by the UN as:

Use of improved facilities which are not shared with other households and where excreta are safely disposed in situ or transported and treated off-site. Improved sanitation facilities include flush/pour flush to piped sewer system, septic tanks or pit latrines; ventilated improved pit latrines, composting toilets or pit latrines with slabs.

With regards to basic handwashing services, access has also increased over the past few years. However, there is still progress to be made, with 29% of the world's population lacking such access in 2020. Basic handwashing services is defined as having a handwashing facility with soap and water at home.

The rate of progress for both hand washing and sanitation services needs to quadruple if the target of universal coverage is to be achieved globally by 2030.

Regionally, Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest share of the population with access. Worryingly, the region has had one of the lowest growth rates in access to safe sanitation services over the past two decades, while the share of the population with access to handwashing facilities has remained stable at 25% over the past decade.

The Nordics

Data for the Nordic countries is only available for the share of the population with access to safely managed sanitation services. No country has achieved universal access, with Sweden and Denmark closest to doing so. Except for Iceland, the shares have remained relatively stable for the past two decades.

As noted by the OECD in its assessment of the progress of the OECD countries as a whole:

[...] some countries have likely already reached the economic and technical limits in terms of connection to water and sanitation services and may rely on other ways of serving small and isolated settlements.

Target 6.3

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


6.3.1Proportion of domestic and industrial wastewater flows safely treated
6.3.2Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality

Global trends

The latest data from 2020 on domestic wastewater flows shows that globally just over half of all wastewater is safely treated, with regional averages ranging from 25% in Central and Southern Asia to 80% in Europe and Northern America.

There is a lack of data on industrial wastewater. The UN has previously estimated that only a third of industrial wastewater was safely treated (based on data from 2015). However, the data sample included only 42 countries (covering 18% of the world population), illustrating the urgent need for more accurate data.

Data on water quality is also lacking. The most recent UN estimate based on data from a sample of 97 countries, showed that only 60% of water was of good ambient quality. However, only 1% of the water bodies included in the sample were in the poorest countries. As the UN notes in the SDG 2022 progress report:

For at least 3 billion people, the quality of the water they rely upon is unknown due to the lack of monitoring.

The Nordics

Denmark, Sweden and Finland all have close to full safe treatment of all domestic wastewater, while Norway and Iceland are both below the European average of 80%.

The available data on water quality shows that, on average, Norway, Finland and Iceland have a high share of bodies of water with good ambient water quality.

The combined assessment by the OECD on these indicators indicate that Norway, Finland and Denmark all have a high likelihood of reaching the target in 2030 on water quality and wastewater treatment. Note, however, that this assessment does not include data for industrial wastewater treatment.

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


6.4.1Change in water-use efficiency over time
6.4.2Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources

Global trends

Water-use efficiency

Water-use efficiency (WUE) is defined as the value added of a given major sector divided by the volume of water used. Globally, WUE increased from 17.4 USD per cubic meter of water in 2015 to 19.4 USD in 2019. The increase means that water-use efficiency rose by 12% as more output was produced per cubic meter of water.

Water-use efficiency varies significantly between sectors. Agriculture is the largest water-use sector, but the water-use efficiency was only 0.63 USD per cubic meter of water in 2019, up from 0.56 USD in 2015.

All sectors have increased their water-use efficiency over the past five years, however, improving efficiency further, especially in the agricultural sector, is a key challenge in light of the increased demand for water driven by population growth and economic growth.

Regionally, water-use efficiency ranges from 3 USD in Central and Southern Asia to 72 USD in Oceania. Most regions have only seen marginal gains in water-use efficiency over the past five years.

Water stress

Water stress is defined happening when more than 25% of available freshwater resources are withdrawn. Globally, the current ratio is at 19%, approximately unchanged from 2015. Global water stress can thus be said to be below the "water-stress" threshold. However, in Northern Africa and Western Asia, water stress is classified as being at a high level (between 75%-100%), with over 84% of available freshwater resources withdrawn in 2019, up from 70% in 2015.

The Nordics

Water-use efficiency in the Nordic countries is higher than the average for Europe and Northern America (at 52 USD per cubic meter of water). There are significant regional variations, however, with Denmark having the highest efficiency, over five times as high as in Iceland which has the lowest water efficiency.

Notwithstanding the high water efficiency, Denmark is the Nordic country with the by far highest level of freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater. Over the last five years, it has hovered around the water stress threshold of 25%.

All in all, the OECD's assessment of progress, based on the available indicators on this target, only considers Norway and Sweden to have made progress. The other countries have a low likelihood of reaching the target by 2030. Note that in its calculation, the OECD also includes OECDs own data on freshwater abstraction per capita and water stress.

Target 6.5

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


6.5.1Degree of integrated water resources management
6.5.2Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation

Global trends

Integrated water resources management

This indicator is measured by the degree of implementation of the internationally established framework of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWMR). In the framework, each country is surveyed with 33 questions covering four areas and given a score of implementation from 0 to 100. The four areas surveyed in the IWMR country survey are:

  1. Enabling environment: this includes the policies, laws, plans and strategies which create the ‘enabling environment’ for IWRM.
  2. Institutions and participation: includes the range and roles of political, social, economic and administrative institutions that help to support the implementation of IWRM.
  3. Management Instruments: The tools and activities that enable decision-makers and users to make rational and informed choices between alternative actions.
  4. Financing: Budgeting and financing made available and used for water resources development and management from various sources.

Out of the 186 countries surveyed the average country score increased from 53 in 2017 to 57 in 2020, a growth rate which is insufficient to reach the target of 100 (full implementation) by 2030.

A closer look at the share of countries in each of the IWRM levels reveals that only 5% of countries are at the 'Very high level' of implementation (95-100), which is the 2030 target. In Central and Southern Asia, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 8 out of 10 countries are at a 'Medium-low' level or lower.

Water cooperation in transboundary basin areas

Water cooperation between countries is crucial for the sustainable management of transboundary basin areas. According to UN Water, 153
countries share transboundary waters, covering 60 per cent of the world’s flow of freshwater.

Data from 2020 shows that globally 58% of total transboundary basin areas were covered by an operational arrangement for water cooperation, almost unchanged from 59% in 2017. There is no set target for 2030, as the target wording is to implement IWRM 'through transboundary cooperation as appropriate'.

The Nordics

The level of IWRM implementation varies significantly between the Nordics. Denmark is the only Nordic country at the 'Very high' level. Sweden and Finland are at a 'High' level (80-95), while Iceland and Norway are only at a 'Medium-high' level (51-70). Since 2017, the IWRM levels have gone up in all countries besides Sweden.

While the Nordics have some way to go on IWRM implementation, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have all their transboundary basis covered agreements for water cooperation. Norway has close to 90% of its transboundary area covered. (No data for Iceland is available.)

Given the lack of historical data, no assessment of progress is given on this indicator by the OECD (only two data points for IWRM and one data point for transboundary area.)

Target 6.6

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


6.6.1Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time

Global trends

This indicator is measured through 22 data series on freshwater ecosystems, covering permanent water, seasonal water, reservoirs, wetlands, mangroves as well as water quality. Satellite images are used for several of the data series to calculate changes over time. Given the magnitude of data series available, no single data series is presented here, but rather a summary of the main findings from the latest UN progress report on this indicator:

  • Increasing surface water fluctuations are causing flooding and draught, with one-fifth of the world's rivers basins experiencing high, and above natural, variations in surface water in the last five years.
  • Over 80% of the world's wetlands are estimated to have been lost over since the pre-industrial era. Mangrove areas are estimated to have declined by over 4% since 1996.
  • Almost a quarter of lakes sampled around the world recorded high to extreme turbidity, which can indicate water pollution.

The Nordics

This section is to be expanded.

Target 6.a

By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies


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

Global trends

While the target is to expand international cooperation and capacity building on water and sanitation, there is no set target for 2030 for this indicator. The chart below shows the evolution of official development assistance (ODA) over time.

While ODA to water and sanitation has increased since 2005, it has gone down over the last two years. As highlighted in the UN SDG 2022 status report, it is likely that the drop in ODA from 2019 to 2020 can be attributed to the COVID pandemic and its impact on water and sanitation related-projects.

The Nordics

No data is shown for each of the Nordic countries, as the sectoral distribution of ODA will depend on many factors, including national priorities. In addition, there no set country target level at the sectoral level.

Target 6.b

Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management


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

Global trends

The latest data from 2019 shows that around 7 out of 10 countries have procedures for user and community participation in water planning programmes. Yet, just 3 of 10 countries have a high level of actual participation in such programmes. Such participation is seen as crucial to ensure that user and community needs are met.

The Nordics

No data is available for the Nordic countries on this target.

About the data

The data presented on global, regional, and national trends are from the UN SDG Global Database and the OECD unless otherwise stated.

The assessment of the Nordic countries is based on the findings from a recent OECD report, published in April 2022. The OECD uses a three-tier classification for each target:

  • Target is achieved or on track to being achieved
  • Progress has been made, but is insufficient to meet the target
  • No progress or moving away from the SDG target

In its assessment, the OECD looks at a country's current performance towards a target, and calculates a trend towards 2030 based on recent progress. As such, a country that is close to a target, but trending away from it, will be classified as having "No progress or moving away from the SDG target". Conversely, a country that is currently further away from the target, but trending towards it (and has a high likelihood of reaching it before 2030), will be classified as "Target is achieved or on track to being achieved".


  • First release July 2022
  • Data and text update December 2022

Terms of use

Link to our terms of use.

Qery AS supports the Sustainable Development Goals.