The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of broad goals and specific target measures that the United Nations member states have agreed to pursue, with the aim to achieve all of 17 SDGs by the year 2030. SDG 6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The targets for SDG 6 include improving access to water and sanitation, reducing water pollution, improving the efficiency of water use, and managing water-related ecosystems. Despite progress in recent years, 2 billion people lacked access to safely-managed drinking water, 3.6 billion lacked safely-managed sanitation, and 2.3 billion lacked access to basic hygiene services in 2020. According to UN-Water, the rate of progress must double to allow the 107 countries not on track to meet SDG 6 to do so by 2030. Furthermore, less than half of UN member states are able to gather enough data to monitor their progress on SDG 6.
A lack of access to safely-managed drinking water and sanitation is linked to many health problems. In the middle of a global pandemic in which hand-washing is still recommended to limit the spread of COVID-19, other diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio can also spread without clean water and adequate sanitation. In medical environments such as hospitals, individuals with existing health conditions are at a higher risk of catching additional diseases. According to the World Health Organization, globally, 15% of patients develop an infection during a hospital stay, with the proportion much greater in low-income countries. In terms of development, poor wastewater management systems result in a loss of economic productivity, and improved sanitation benefits both the physical and economic health of communities.
The issue of access to water and sanitation goes beyond the question of how to install plumbing the world over. If every home in the world had indoor plumbing tomorrow, there would be no clean water left shortly after. So the UN must seek not only to bring more people access to water, but also to ensure water access by improving water use efficiency and protecting water-based ecosystems. This is what is meant by the “sustainable” part of the SDGs. How can the UNDP continue to encourage sustainable access to water across the globe? What can be done for communities without access to bodies of water or municipal plumbing?