Publication trends about Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation 2: Research 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 many 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 what is being published: Which academic disciplines are publishing papers referring to SDG 6, do the publications link SDG 6 to the other SDGs, and which of the eight specific targets under SDG 6 are getting the most attention?

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. WoS automatically associates each paper with one or more of five broad research areas: arts & humanities, life sciences & biomedicine, physical sciences, social sciences, technology. We found that most of the papers fall under natural sciences, while social sciences, arts and humanities are underrepresented. This may, in part, reflect biases in the journals included in WoS (e.g. many law journals are not included).

We found that only 31% of the papers explicitly refer to one of the other SDGs in the title, keywords or abstract. The other SDGs most often referred to are SDG 6 are SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 15 (life on land), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 7 (energy) and SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing).

69 percent of the papers do not mention one of the eight SDG 6 targets specifically. Of the SDG 6 targets specifically mentioned, targets 6.1 (safe and affordable drinking water for all) 6.2 (adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end to open defecation) are the most referred to. Targets and 6.6 (protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems), 6.A (international cooperation and capacity building) and 6.B (community participation) are the least referred to. This suggests that water in the environment and water governance are less commonly associated with SDG 6 than supply of water to people and industry. This might be related to the fact that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the SDGs, were more focussed on development than environment, and only referred to fresh water in terms of total water resource consumption, safe drinking water and sanitation. Research is certainly being done in areas related to integrated water resource management and water governance, but it is not commonly being linked explicitly to the SDG agenda.

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