Experts Warn That Universal Access to Water Is Off Track
Turning toilet talk into action.
In 2010, the United Nations declared water and sanitation to be a human right, yet 2.1 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water and 4.5 billion lack quality sanitation systems.
Ending this disparity is one of the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 6, which aims to make clean water, safe sanitation, and hygiene available to all.
To get there, the UN has prioritized increasing worldwide access to toilets, hand-washing facilities, behavior change programs, and waste management. It's all to ensure human waste doesn’t get dumped into local water sources, which causes people to drink water contaminated with human waste and contract fatal illnesses like diarrhea, killing more than 1,000 children every day.
Governments, businesses, and institutions around the world have joined the effort and are working with the UN on a number of projects to fight the global sanitation crisis.
For example, Somalia has built a dam to increase access to water, saving families $400 USD per month.
And South Sudan implemented a solar-powered energy system that pumps 40,000 liters of clean drinking water per day.
In Sierra Leone, the UNDP trained 150 youths in slum neighborhoods on recycling waste products, which has improved sanitation in disaster-prone areas.
Arsenic Filtration Unit in West Bengal India Image: Cecilia Snyder
While we’re seeing real progress, two advisers to the UN Joint Monitoring Programme for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) are saying it isn’t enough.
The advisers, from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), even went as far to say in a new report that “targets for SDG 6, in their current form, are insufficient for achieving the outcome targets for water and sanitation” by 2030.
In other words, the world is far off track.
The SDGs are paving the way for development, but these advisers are challenging the UN to recognize the flaws in their plan, and step up to make the human right to clean water and toilets a reality for everyone, everywhere.
Specifically, they want to reform how the SDGs are being implemented, especially the goals that focus on the role of safe water and quality sanitation in human health. Poor sanitation leads to water-borne illnesses, malnutrition, and directly affects maternal, newborn, and child health.
The authors of the report claim that to get to the root of these issues, countries need to focus on actually building the infrastructure that can help people, such as sewage pipes and toilets, rather than projecting future outcomes.
“We recommend adjustments, aligned with the universal nature of the SDGs, with less differentiation between 'donor' and 'developing' countries, that provide incentives to give all people voice in decision-making around water and sanitation," they wrote.
You can read the entire policy review here.
The goals of SDG 6 are ambitious, and without determining how to accomplish them, we might not get the job done by 2030.
Global Citizen campaigns on SDG 6, a key goal in ending extreme poverty. Currently, we are working to gain domestic commitments and engage corporates on improving WASH around the globe. You can take action here.