It is essential to define both the specific goals and the metrics that will be used to measure attainment of those goals ex ante. We cannot measure attainment using a metric system that is inconsistent with the stated targets. For example, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Target 7C strives to “[h]alve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to **safe** drinking water and basic sanitation.” While it has been asserted that this goal has been met five years ahead of schedule, this assertion is incorrect. MDG Target 7C specifically references access to “safe” drinking water, but the metric measuring attainment of the goal is merely “access to an **improved** source of drinking water.” These are not equivalent, as the UN MDG status report itself admits:
[s]ince it is not yet possible to measure water quality globally, dimensions of safety, reliability and sustainability are not … used to track progress towards the MDG target. As a result, it is likely that the number of people using improved water sources is an overestimate of the actual number of people using safe water supplies (United Nations, 2012:52).
Thus, rather than having met already the MDG drinking water goal, we have much work yet to do to ensure reliably “safe” drinking water for the world’s human populations. This work includes consistent, worldwide water quality monitoring, which has significant implications for both humans and waterway systems. In addition, expression in law of waterways’ own right to sufficient, clean water can begin to address the gap between “safe” and “unsafe” water supplies.
Cite: United Nations, “The Millennium Development Goals Report,” 2012, p. 52, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG
Linda Sheehan, Executive Director
Earth Law Center