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Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. (Sustainable Development Goal 6)
What do you need to do to drink a glass of water right now? Do you need to walk more than 30 minutes to get to it? Do you need to get it straight from a stream or lake without any treatment or filtration? Hundreds of millions of people would say yes to one or both of the last two questions. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 is striving to change that.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also referred to as the Global Goals, are a set of 17 broad goals that aim to make the world a better place and improve the quality of life of all people. All UN member states adopted the goals in 2015.1 They provide a road map to achieving a sustainable future for all and include targets on issues like climate change, poverty, inequality, and peace and justice. The SDGs are an important part of the UN's work to achieve its mission of promoting peace and security and working for the advancement of humanity.
Be sure to read our explanations on the other 16 SDGs and our main explanation of the SDGs!
The Sustainable Development Goals are a plan for a better future. They provide a roadmap for sustainable development and demonstrate what can be accomplished if we work together collectively to improve our world. The Sustainable Development Goals build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals, which exceeded expectations in the first fifteen years of the 21st century.
Sustainable Development Goal Number 6 states that, by 2030, everyone should have clean drinking water, adequate sanitation services, and good hygiene facilities and that our limited water resources are responsibly managed in a sustainable and environmentally conscious manner.2 This way, people's immediate needs are addressed, and these resources are managed so that future generations will also have safe water and sanitation. SDG 6 has eight specific targets to address these issues.
As the title of Goal 6 states, clean water and sanitation are the main areas SDG 6 addresses. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also distinguished hygiene as an important factor in its strategy to align with the SDG 6 targets by 2030. This can be seen in the WASH strategy, which stands for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.3
The World Health Organization estimates that around 829,000 people in low and middle-income countries die annually as a result of illnesses caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.3
Water is essential for life. Not only does it keep us alive, but we use it for everyday necessities such as drinking, cooking, washing, irrigation, and many other purposes. This can lead to various diseases and ailments, such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, and typhoid fever.
Sanitation refers to the cleanliness of our surroundings and waste management. Hygiene refers to the cleanliness of our bodies. Good sanitation and hygiene are necessary to prevent the spread of disease. Yet, many people do not have access to clean toilets or latrines. Clean, accessible water, as well as good sanitation and hygiene, can prevent deaths from water-borne illnesses.
Sustainable management is a critical component of SDG 6.
2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries, of which 733 million live in high and critically water-stressed countries.4
Water Scarcity: A lack of water for everyday needs due to factors such as low supply, climate change, conflict, poor infrastructure, pollution, or inefficient water usage.
Water Stress: When the demand for water is greater than the available supply of water.
When people live under water stress, clean water becomes less available, safely managed sanitation is strained, and practicing adequate hygiene becomes difficult. Water becomes unavailable not only for drinking but also for everyday needs such as washing hands and clothes.
This makes everyday activities difficult and can also lead to declines in public health and the spread of diseases and illnesses. Improved water resource management is needed to support economic growth, protect public health, preserve our environment, and ensure that everyone can access clean water, get safely managed sanitation services, and practice adequate hygiene.
As mentioned above, SDG 6 has set eight targets to measure the impact achieved by 2030.5 These targets can be summarized as:
increase access to clean water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene
improve wastewater treatment
use water resources efficiently
expand transboundary cooperation of water resource management
protect water ecosystems
support and engage developing and local communities.
Collectively, these targets work to ensure that everyone has access to clean, safe water and that water resources are managed sustainably and responsibly.
In the first five years of the Sustainable Development Goals, from 2015 to 2020, progress on the 6th Sustainable Development Goal has been in a positive direction but far below what needs to be achieved to reach the targets by 2030.
From 2015 to 2020, the proportion of people in the world with access to safely managed drinking water increased from 70 to 74 percent.6 This is no small feat as that four percent increase amounts to over 300 million more people worldwide, or a slightly smaller population than the US, now having safe water for life's daily needs.
However, at this rate, the projected proportion of people with safely managed drinking water by 2030 will only be 81 percent of people worldwide, leaving some 19 percent or 1.61 billion people without safely working drinking water (adjusting for population increases).
During the same period, the proportion of people worldwide with safely managed sanitation increased from 47 percent to 54,6 with a projected target of 67 percent. Again a significant improvement of over half a billion people, yet at this rate, adjusting for population increases, some 2.8 billion will still be without safely managed sanitation by 2030.
Basic hygiene saw a four percent increase, slightly more than 300 million people, meaning 71 percent of people have access to basic hygiene, projected to rise to 78 percent by 2030.6 That leaves 22 percent of people, or 1.87 billion, without basic hygiene.
What does all this mean? There are several significant concerns about sustainable water management, notably the need for more cooperative agreements between countries on how to manage water resources in shared bodies of water, few of which exist in countries where people suffer a lack of clean water, sanitation, and adequate hygiene services.6 Such transboundary agreements allow counties to decide how and when to use the resources they share, thus allowing them to measure what is being used and how it can be managed. It is developing a budget for shared natural resources instead of spending freely.
Establishing and expanding monitoring systems to prevent the disappearance of wetlands, prevent pollution and predict times of high water stress are also necessary for responsible and sustainable water management. The world's wetlands are disappearing quickly. Some factors contributing to this are population increases, land being used for other purposes such as development or farmland, as well as climate change.
Monitoring of water pollution in developing countries must be expanded. Because agriculture and untreated wastewater are big contributors to pollution of natural water resources, monitoring programs can help see this happening and address it to limit ecological damage.6
The United Nations 2022 report on the SDGs calls for a fourfold increase in progress to achieve goal number 6 by 2030.6 This is undoubtedly a very challenging pace to follow. However, this is one of the main aims of the UN 2023 water conference.
The conference takes place in New York City from March 22nd to 24th, 2023. It is roughly the halfway mark on the 15-year timeline of the sustainable development goals. The goal is to review the progress made so far, look for improvements, and exchange innovative ideas on accelerating SDG 6.
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Clean, accessible water, as well as good sanitation and hygiene, can support good health and quality of life and prevent deaths from water-borne illnesses.
Efforts to raise the number of people with access to clean water safely managed sanitation services, and hygiene facilities help achieve SDG goal 6, as well as establishing monitoring programs and transnational agreements for the protection and sustainable management of water resources.
What does WASH stand for?
Water, Sanitation, Hygiene
Where is the UN 2023 Water Conference?
By what year does SDG 6 aim to meet its targets?
When was SDG 6 adopted?
What is Water Stress?
When demand for water exceeds available supply.
From 2015 to 2020 what percentage of the world population gained access to safely managed drinking water?
How many targets are there that SDG 6 aims to achieve by 2030?
How many people does the WHO estimate do not have access to basic sanitation facilities?
What are the three main components of waterborne illness prevention?
Clean water, safely managed sanitation, and adequate hygiene
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