Everything to Know About Global Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation
Access to clean water is essential for life.
What is Global Goal 6?
It’s an uncomfortable, yet passing condition for a lot of people. However, for millions of others living in developing countries, diarrhea can be deadly.
FACT: Pneumonia and diarrhea are the leading infectious causes of child mortality worldwide.
FACT: About 2 million children lose their lives to these preventable illnesses each year.
FACT: 88% of diarrheal disease infections are caused by poor hygiene, lack of access to sanitation facilities (e.g., toilets, sewage treatment systems), and unsafe drinking water.
Now, let’s talk about water scarcity. Severe droughts, lack of water-related infrastructure (e.g., wells, irrigation systems), and the mismanagement of fresh water supplies all lead to water scarcity. This issue affects more than 40% of the global population, and that number is projected to rise.
When communities lack clean water sources, girls have to walk long distances to fetch water and regularly miss school. When rain stops falling and farmers lack access to proper irrigation systems, food production decreases and hunger begins to worsen. When hazardous chemicals and materials are dumped into rivers and lakes, the water becomes unusable.
None of these situations should happen.
In short, Global Goal 6 seeks to ensure that all people have access to an adequate amount of clean water and sanitation facilities so they can live healthy and productive lives.
Which countries are affected the most?
The answer: all of them. Given that water is essential for life, it’s abundance is a high priority for every single country. However, the specific water-related challenges vary from one region to another.
In mostly developed regions like Europe and North America, the main challenges are increasing water use efficiency (primarily for agriculture), reducing waste and pollution, and influencing consumption patterns.
In the Asia and Pacific region, communities need improved access to safe water and sanitation. In India, around 590 million people defecate in the open because they do not have access to public sanitation. Additionally, the region must find ways to better meet water demands across multiple uses, improve groundwater management, and increase resilience following water-related disasters.
In the Arab region, water scarcity is the biggest challenge. Unsustainable consumption and over-extraction of surface and groundwater resources contribute to water shortages and threaten long-term sustainable development. Options that could enhance water supplies include water harvesting (collecting rainwater), reusing wastewater, and solar energy desalination.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, water is abundant. Brazil has the most renewable fresh water in the world! Therefore, a major priority for this region is to manage water resources in a way that lends itself to socio-economic development and poverty reduction. For instance, expand reservoirs, crack down on pollution and fairly allocate water.
Read More: 23 Best and Worst Countries for Water Supply
The fundamental aim for Africa is to develop its natural and human resources without repeating the negatives experienced by some other regions. Currently, only 5% of Africa’s potential water resources are developed and only 5% of Africa’s cultivated land is irrigated.
Has any progress been made?
Fortunately, yes. In 2010, the world met the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. This was 5 years ahead of schedule. More than 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources from 1990 to 2010.
However, 663 million people are still without an improved drinking water source. And sanitation has been slower to improve. 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
Read More: What You Need to Know About Dehydration
What can you do?
First, you can start talking about poop. This topic has long been considered a “no no” in public forums. However, the first step in improving sanitation is acknowledging that open defecation is an issue. As awareness of this issue increases, the effort put into ending open defecation for good will also increase.
This brings me to my next point: support organizations that empower communities to improve their own sanitation and hygiene. Many times, building wells or installing toilets isn’t enough. Long-ingrained cultural practices make it hard for some communities to shift their daily routines. My colleague wrote a great article about this. She also included a few examples of initiatives aimed at tackling sanitation issues.
Finally, treat water the way it should be treated, as a finite natural resource. Be more conscientious of how you use water, and support policies or organizations that increase efficiencies in water usage.
Did you know that about 70% of fresh water is used for agricultural purposes? Supporting policies that seek to improve how farmers and livestock holders use water is a good place to start.