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Clean water and sanitation
November 10, 2015, 12:40 pm

SDG-6 calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Achieving the ambitious goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, which world leaders adopted at the UN Sustainable Summit in September 2015, demands that governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector exert concerted efforts to realize the hopes and aspirations of people all over the world. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with their 169 specific targets, are a plan of action for the planet, its people and for peace and prosperity around the world.

Goal 6 of the SDG calls for ensuring universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and providing adequate accessible sanitation and hygiene for all by the year 2030. The goal also targets improving water quality by reducing pollution of waters, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse of water globally, within the next 15 years. A specific objective  aimed to be achieved by 2020, and crucial to fulfilling SDG-6, is protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.

Other targets for achieving SDG-6 include supporting and strengthening the involvement of local communities in water and sanitation related issues, as well as expanding international cooperation and support for capacity-building in water efficiency, water-harvesting, desalination, wastewater treatment and recycling technologies among others.

Access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation is a core priority of the 2030 Agenda as it is inextricably linked to other SDG goals, including health, food security, climate change, resiliency to disasters and ecosystems among others. Reaching the ambitious objectives of the 2030 Agenda demands that we address universal access to drinking water and sanitation along with issues of quality and supply, in tandem with improved water management to protect ecosystems and build resiliency.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG), launched in 2000, called on the world to halve by 2015, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, as well as the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation.

According to the Joint Monitoring Program initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the MDG target of having 88 percent of the global population with access to improved drinking water by 2015 was met and surpassed by 2010. While 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water since 1990, there were still over 663 million people without access to such sources. Eight out of ten such people live in rural areas, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa (319 million), Southern Asia (134 million) and Eastern Asia (65 million).

Regrettably, the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation, thereby extending access to 77 percent of the world’s population, was not met by 2015. Though considerable progress has been made during the 15-year period from 2000, nearly 2.4 billion people around the world still lack access to improved sanitation facilities.

In fact, due to population growth unmatched by sufficient progress, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to basic sanitation actually increased since 1990. And, once again, the majority of people without access to improved sanitation lived mainly in Southern Asia (953 million), sub-Saharan Africa (695 million) and Eastern Asia (337 million).

Open defecation continues to be a problem worldwide. Southern Asia, where the number of open defecation is highest, achieved reductions of over 30 percent since 1990. In India this represented 394 million more people gaining access to improved sanitation in the last 25 years. Nevertheless, at current rates of reduction, open defecation is not likely to be eliminated among the poorest in rural areas by 2030.

On a related front, the data from WHO and UNICEF on the monitoring of hygiene, which is inextricable linked to adequate water and sanitation, shows that 4 out of 10 schools and health facilities in the developing world lack basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. It is estimated that 340,000 children under five die annually from diarrheal diseases due to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene.

It is clear that unless the world prioritize and exert renewed efforts, the SDG-6 goal will not be achieved by 2030. In addition to sharper focus on inequalities in access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) between groups, such as rich and poor, rural and urban, or disadvantaged groups versus the general population, the world will also have to move from just access to WASH to the quality of water, sanitation and hygiene provided at schools, health care facilities, work places and to families around the world.

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