In 2015, the United Nations established a set of 17 goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030 in order to build a better world, for the sake of both our people and our planet. The sixth of the SDGs is ensuring access to water and sanitation for all, as clean water has previously been recognized by the United Nations as a fundamental human right. At the time the goals were established, 3 in 10 people lacked access to safely managed drinking water globally. The statistics for sanitation were even worse, with 6 in 10 people lacking access to clean water and soap to adequately manage sanitation. Other targets set by the SDGs include significant improvement in water quality via pollution reduction and improved water treatment infrastructure, a reduction in waste produced as a result of water extraction, and integration of water systems to allow open delivery of water to those who need it. Overall, the SDGs seek to significantly increase international cooperation on a wide range of water-related issues by 2030.
Improving water access is also a fundamental step toward achieving many of the other SDGs, including good health and gender equality, as walking long distances to fetch water is a task often borne by women and girls who could otherwise be working or in school. Diseases caused by poor water quality and sanitation remain one of the leading causes of death in children under the age of five, with more than 800 children dying from diarrheal diseases each day. Water is also at the core of sustainable development in energy and food production, and one of the key tools in climate change adaptation. There are clear discrepancies between countries in regard to water access, but there are also staggering differences within countries, especially between the rich and poor. Without improvements in water management and infrastructure, millions of people across the globe will continue to die of preventable causes every year, in addition to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience caused by poor water management.
Given the global nature of the water cycle and the immense impact that lack of water, lack of sanitation, or disruption of the water cycle can have on populations, it is difficult for any one nation to protect the water rights of citizens on their own, and it therefore falls upon the international community to cooperate in addressing water security. However, cooperation is still rather limited. For example, currently two-thirds of transboundary rivers lack a cooperative management framework between nations. States with an outsized influence on the water supply–such as those which administer rainforests, large lakes and rivers, or mountains whose rain feeds local water sources–must do their part to protect their water resources, while states with financial resources may choose to assist others in implementing more efficient water delivery infrastructure, safer water treatment systems, and stronger protection for ecosystems which play key roles in the water cycle. Global cooperation is key to preserving and expanding water access.