Countdown day 12 – SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation


“The SDG on water creates a ripple effect across the other SDGs with clear linkages to inequalities, infant mortality, school enrolment, food, energy, poverty reduction, health and environmental sustainability.”

 “There is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way it is used, managed and shared.”

Water is life. It is essential to all life on the planet and to all aspects of sustainable development. From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social well-being and inclusive growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions.

Fifteen years ago, the international community committed to halving the proportion of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation. The water goal was met 5 years ahead of schedule, a major achievement for countries and the international community, but 800 million people still lack access around the world and 1.8 million only have access to faecally contaminated water sources. Less encouraging, the target for sanitation was missed by nearly 700 million people and today 2.5 billion – or 1 out of every 3 people[1] – are still without access to improved sanitation facilities including 946 million people who defecate in the open. Despite the progress made, around 1000 children still die each day from diarrhoea caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.[2]

Meeting the water and sanitation targets is more than a health and dignity issue. The evidence is compelling that achieving the water and sanitation goals would trigger a major leap forward in human development. A UNDP study found that access to water and sanitation had the greatest impact on a country’s global rating on human development, more than energy access or spending on education and health care.

This is particularly true for women and girls in developing countries who spend up to 25% of their day collecting water, time which could be much better spent in school or on paid work. Women and girls are also the primary caregivers when family members are sick from waterborne diseases and many drop out of school once they reach puberty if they don’t have access to toilets.

Governments have agreed that more action is needed and have dedicated a new goal, Sustainable Development Goal 6, to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Tackling this goal will create a ripple effect across the other SDGs with clear linkages to addressing inequalities, infant mortality, school enrolment, food supply, energy production, poverty reduction, health and environmental sustainability among others.

This new SDG on water goes beyond the provision of access to water and sanitation. It also looks at the bigger picture in terms of the way water is managed, reducing pollution, protecting ecosystems that supply our water, and more. Today over 1.7 billion people live in river basins where water use exceeds recharge. The crisis in water and sanitation overwhelmingly affects the poor. Availability of water is certainly a concern for some countries. But the global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical availability. It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance and thus governance reform must be a key pillar of any strategy to addressing the crisis. The fact is there is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared.

Here are some key facts:

  • 1.7 billion people live in river basins where water use exceeds recharge
  • Up to 10% of GDP is lost in very poor countries due to inadequate water and sanitation.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water– the equivalent of a year’s worth of labour by the entire workforce in France
  • Water insecurity is a drag on global economic development in the order of US $500 billion annually
  • The benefits of achieving universal access to sanitation are estimated to outweigh the costs by a factor of 5.5 to 1, whereas for universal access to drinking water the ratio is estimated at 2 to 1.

Through programmes like MDG GoAL-WaSHCapNet, the Community Water InitiativeEvery Drop MattersGender and WaterHuman Rights Based Approach, and others, UNDP promotes and facilitates equitable access to Water and Sanitation services as a fundamental contribution to enhancing human development.

This year’s World Water Day has been all about the connection of water and sustainable development. It remembered that water is one of our most precious resources. Water is Life. Let’s preserve it!

See our blog on Oceans and Life below Water and get to know the other SDGs:!




6 Comments on “Countdown day 12 – SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation

  1. Pingback: Countdown day 13 – SDG 5: Gender equality | Rio+ Centre

  2. It is worthwhile to note that Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is not limited to achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all (6.1) and
    access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations (6.2). Unlike the MDGs the SDGs include
    improving water quality by reducing pollution by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally (6.3); substantially increasing water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensuring sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity (6.4); implementing integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate (6.5); and protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes (6.6). The challenge will be to establish a comprehensive set of indicators and be able to monitor progress by country, region and or river basin.

    • Yes, it is true that SDG 6 covers a much more integrated set of water issues than the MDG framework did. During the SDG negotiations process UN-Water, together with a broad coalition, pressed for a standalone goal on water, in recognition of the centrality of water access and sustainable water management across the spectrum of development issues. The campaign was considered a great success and many of the recommendations were included in the final SDG 6. Previously, under the much more limited MDG framework, all environment-related goals were put under one goal, leaving little space to adequately cover the range of critical issues. The SDG framework broadens the reach and levels of commitment for a more integrated approach.

      So far the challenge for the SDGs will be their implementation. This requires a change to the ‘business as usual’ concept. Indicators are still under negotiation and participation of all actors to finalize them will help countries monitor progress under the SDGs. We all agree that national capacities present challenges in collecting data to monitor progress of indicators. That is why the data revolution initiative is set to provide support and national statistics bureau should play a key role to help countries report in an integrated manner based on indicators/targets/ SDGs.

  3. Pingback: Countdown day 15 – SDG 3: Good health and well-being | Rio+ Centre

  4. Pingback: Countdown day 16– SDG 2: Zero Hunger | Rio+ Centre

  5. Pingback: Countdown to the Sustainable Development Summit – SDG 2: Zero Hunger | Zero Hunger Challenge

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