SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Water and sanitation are at the very core of sustainable development, critical to the survival of people and the planet. SDG6 not only addresses the issues relating to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, but also the quality and sustainability of water resources worldwide and the vital role that improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene play in progress in other areas, including health, education and poverty reduction.

Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in and there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

Drought in specific afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition. Fortunately, there has been great progress made in the past decade regarding drinking sources and sanitation, whereby over 90% of the world’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water.

Water stress

Holistic management of the water cycle means taking into account the level of “water stress”, calculated as the ratio of total fresh water withdrawn by all major sectors to the total renewable freshwater resources in a particular country or region.

Currently, water stress affects more than 2 billion people around the globe, a figure that is projected to rise. Water stress affects countries on every continent, which hinders the sustainability of natural resources, as well as economic and social development.

While many regions are below the 25% threshold that marks the beginning stages of physical water stress, huge differences are found within and among countries. In 2011, 41 countries experienced water stress, an increase from 36 countries in 1998. Of these, 10 countries—on the Arabian Peninsula and in Central Asia and Northern Africa—withdrew more than 100% of their renewable freshwater resources.

Drinking water sources

In 2015, 6.6 billion people, or 91% of the global population, used an improved drinking water source compared to 82% in 2000. Despite that improvement, an estimated 663 million people in 2015 were still using unimproved sources or surface water.

While coverage was around 90% or more in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, widespread inequalities persist within and among countries. Moreover, not all improved water sources are safe. For instance, in 2012 it was estimated that at least 1.8 billion people were exposed to drinking water sources contaminated with faecal matter.

A key aspect of sustainable water management is the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), a follow-up to the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. In 2012, 65% of the 130 countries that responded to an IWRM survey question reported that management plans were in place at the national level, though full implementation varies across regions.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Water is a big issue in the Pacific region, for many reasons. On the one hand, because of the rise of the sea level. On the other hand, because of the scarcity of safe drinking water.

It is a curious contradiction, that islands surrounded and threatened by water are at the same time in desperate need of water. And there are many stories on the global web on how climate change is affecting this island nation.

However regarding clear statistics about the targets and related indicators of SDG 6 is not readily available. Hopefully we will start getting used to compiling information about the goals in order to have data which will help us make better decisions and generate a better future.

Kiribati adapting to climate change

Drinking water

And then there is hope for the future. For sure in the eyes of all of these people and their wishes for a better future.