Publication trends about Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation 1: Geographical focus

Post by Cathy Smith

In 2015 the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by world leaders. The 17 goals are a call to action for all countries, recognising that many issues, such as ending poverty, protecting ecosystems, tackling the climate crisis and ending violent conflict, are intricately interlinked. While most of the goals are relevant to fresh water in some way, the most directly relevant is SDG 6, ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. This two-part blog post looks at trends in academic publishing related to SDG 6, using data from Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science (WoS), an online portal for searching multiple databases containing bibliographic records from over ten thousand of the world’s academic journals. In today’s post we look at geographical trends: Which countries are being studied in relation to SDG 6, which countries are publishing about SDG 6, and do the two align?

We searched for all papers on WoS that mention SDG 6 in the title, keywords or abstract, and found 167 relevant papers, all published since 2015. Just over half of the papers focus on a specific geographical area (in a named country or region), and the rest give a general or global analysis. While both developed and developing countries have adopted the SDGs there is a clear emphasis on developing countries in the papers: of those that named a specific geographical area, 85 percent focus on a developing country or countries (here we used the UN’s classification of countries as developing or developed for 2019).

We also looked at the location of the institutions that authors of the papers are affiliated with. 70 different countries are represented by these institutions and 57% of the papers are linked to institutions in more than one country, suggesting a high level of international cooperation for research towards SDG 6. Despite the focus on developing countries within the papers themselves, developed countries dominate in publishing research referring to SDG 6, with the USA and UK publishing the most papers. 82% have at least one author in a developed country, and for 72%, the first author is based at an institution in a developed country.

These results are not surprising. They are part of a wider pattern of significant global inequality in the production of research. It is interesting, however, that while much research that explicitly refers to the SDGs is being published by authors based in developed countries, so little of it focuses on the developed countries themselves. There is certainly research being published about many aspects of fresh water use, condition and management that focuses on developing countries, but it seems that this research is not often being linked to the SDG agenda.


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