Understanding SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation for Sustainable Development
Let's review the progress made by countries and regions to ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation.
Clean Water and Sanitation SDG 6 Meaning
SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation (Sustainable Development Goal 6) is the sixth of 17 goals in the United Nations’ 2030 agenda for sustainable development. This goal aims to provide universal and equitable access to clean water and sanitation worldwide. Think beyond drinking water and domestic sanitation management — the goal is to protect water resources worldwide and implement integrated water resources management policies that can guarantee continuous access to clean water through sustainable methods.
Why is it crucial to address the issue and fight water scarcity?
One in ten people doesn’t have access to safe water — that’s about 800 million individuals. Even more concerning, every 2 minutes, a child’s death is caused by a water-related disease. Without global commitment, things will get worse. The UN has raised a red flag by pointing out that water usage has been growing worldwide twice as fast as population growth over the past century.
As a result, more and more regions are approaching the threshold beyond which the sustainable delivery of water services becomes increasingly challenging.
Meeting the SDG 6 goal means everyone can access renewable freshwater resources without damaging the planet and respecting the unbreakable link between water resources and the broader ecosystem.
The Goals and Targets of SDG 6
SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation Targets: Water Targets
What The UN wants to achieve by 2030:
- Everyone gets universal and equitable access to potable water.
- Open defecation practices end for everyone, including for women and populations in vulnerable situations.
- Authorities reduce water pollution by controling the release of hazardous chemicals and materials.
- Communities worldwide halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increase water recycling globally.
- The global community increases water-use efficiency and addresses water scarcity with a sustainable freshwater supply.
- Transboundary cooperation enables the implementation of integrated water resources management at all levels.
SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation Targets: Sanitation Targets
What The UN wants to achieve by 2030:
- International cooperation is expanded to support developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs.
- Governments support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.
- Countries develop and implement integrated water resources management and sanitation plans at the national, regional, and local levels.
- Local and national authorities manage to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities.
Targets, Indicators, and Progress for SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation Indicators
|6.1||Give everyone universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.||6.1.1 Percentage of the global population with access to affordable drinking water|
|6.2||Give everyone access to proper sanitation and hygiene by 2030.Put a stop to open defecation for everyone, with particular attention to the requirements of women and vulnerable populations.||6.2.1 Percentage of the population with access to safely managed sanitation services, categorized by urban and rural areas|
|6.2.2 Percentage of schools with essential handwashing amenities|
|6.2.3 Percentage of healthcare facilities with access to water sanitation and hygiene|
|6.3||Reduce water pollution by eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals to improve water quality. Reduce untreated wastewater by 50% and enhance safe water reuse efforts.||6.3.1 Proportion of wastewater that undergoes safe treatment worldwide|
|6.3.2 Proportion of bodies of water showing favorable ambient water quality|
|6.4||Increase water-use efficiency and encourage sustainable withdrawals worldwide.Reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.||6.4.1 Improve water-use efficiency metrics|
|6.4.2 Level of water stress: the ratio between global freshwater withdrawals and total renewable freshwater resources|
|6.5||Implement integrated water resources management at all levels, encompassing collaborative efforts for transboundary coordination.||6.5.1 Progress on water resources management implementation|
|6.5.2 Percentage of transboundary river basin area with a functional agreement for water cooperation|
|6.6||Protect and restore water-related ecosystems by 2020.||6.6.1 Progress for expanding water-related ecosystems|
|6.a||Expand international cooperation.Provide capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs.||6.a.1 Volume of official development assistance (ODA) for projects supported by government-coordinated budgets|
|6.b||Strengthen the participation of local communities in dedicated projects.||6.b.1 Percentage of local administrative units with clearly established and functioning protocols for engaging communities in water and sanitation management|
Progress and Achievements
The progress for SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation is off-track, as reported in the “Blueprint for Acceleration SDG 6 Synthesis Report on Water and Sanitation 2023“:
- Target 6.1 — equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030
Since 2015, nearly 700 million people have gained access to safely managed freshwater services. However, the story isn’t all sunshine because we’re behind schedule. In 2022, only 73% of the global population had access to safe and affordable drinking water. A staggering 2.2 billion people still need access to uncontaminated, affordable drinking water.
The narrative differs between rural and urban areas. In rural regions, 200 million people gained access to managed drinking water between 2015 and 2022. However, the problem got worse in cities. The number of people who couldn’t use these services went up from 784 million to 857 million during the same timeframe.
At the current rate of progress, the world is projected to achieve only 77% coverage by 2030, leaving 2 billion people waiting for better services. In the current rate of progress, governments and international organizations must increase their efforts six times to meet target 6.1.
Promoting Equality and Inclusion
- Target 6.2 — proper and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation
In 2022, 57% of the world’s population had access to safely managed sanitation services. SDG 6-related efforts gave access to equitable sanitation to 902 million people. But the progress needs to be faster, as 1.5 billion people, two-thirds from rural areas, still need essential sanitation services. Furthermore, open defecation practices persist among 419 million people.
Nine countries had achieved universal access to safely managed services by 2022, and 21 more were on track to achieve this by 2030. Yet, if current rates of progress persist, the world will only reach 65% coverage by 2030, so 3 billion people won’t get safely managed sanitation services on time. To achieve universal access, the global community will need, on average, a fivefold increase in the current rate of progress.
As for handwashing facilities, 75% of the global population had access to a handwashing facility with soap and water at home in 2022. Nearly 2 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, still lacked this basic amenity.
- Target 6.3 — reduce water pollution, eliminate dumping, and minimize the release of hazardous materials
The global community needs more water quality data, especially for low-income countries, meaning that over 3 billion people could be at risk because we’re in the dark about the health of their freshwater ecosystems.
What we know — in 2022, only 58% of household wastewater got the treatment it needed before it was released into the environment. It’s a slight improvement from the previous year, and the progress isn’t uniform. There’s a big gap between regions, with Central and Southern Asia treating just 24% of household wastewater safely, while Europe and North America are doing better at 86%.
As for water quality, about 60% of the world’s monitored water bodies meet the standards for good ambient water quality. Nutrients from untreated wastewater and agricultural runoff remain a significant threat to our freshwater ecosystems.
Global Partnerships and Collaborations
- Target 6.4 —increase water-use efficiency (WUE) and sustainable withdrawals
In 2020, WUE was all over the map. Some economies, mainly reliant on agriculture, had WUE as low as $3 per cubic meter, while highly industrialized ones reached $50 per cubic meter. All sectors have improved at using water efficiently since 2015, with agriculture leading by 20%. But the farming sector needs even more attention, especially in irrigated agriculture.
On a global scale, we’re not in a water-stress crisis but zoom in, and you’ll see a different story. In 2020, around 2.4 billion people lived in water-stressed countries, and almost 800 million face high to critically high water stress levels.
The proportion of global freshwater withdrawals compared to total renewable freshwater resources rose slightly from 2015 to 2020, indicating growing global water stress. In 2020, water stress was exceptionally high in Southern Asia, Central Asia, and Northern Africa.
- Target 6.5 — implement integrated water resources management (IWRM) at all levels
For the advancement in IWRM implementation, the worldwide average reached 54% in 2020, marking a modest increase from the 49% reported in 2017. To hit the global target by 2030, we must double the current pace. Some regions, like Central and Southern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania, and sub-Saharan Africa, have some catching up.
Out of 153 countries that share transboundary waters, only 24 have cooperation arrangements that cover all the rivers, lakes, and aquifers they share. These arrangements are essential for preventing conflicts, promoting regional integration, and ensuring sustainable development.
Europe, North America, and sub-Saharan Africa are leading the way in transboundary water cooperation, but Latin America and all Asian subregions are lagging.
- Target 6.6 — protect and restore water-related ecosystems
Over 80% of wetlands have been lost since the pre-industrial era, leaving only about 10-12 million square kilometers. Additionally, coastal mangroves, vital ecosystems that serve as buffers against coastal erosion and support diverse marine life, have experienced a global decline of 4% since 1996.
The regions that notably saw permanent water reductions were Australia and sub-Saharan Africa, while areas with increasing trends were predominantly located in Central, Eastern, Southern Asia, and Northern Africa. Interestingly, Europe and North America (excluding Greenland and the United States) reported the fewest river basins with significant changes.
While target 6.6, with a deadline set for 2020, has not been achieved, efforts to monitor and report on indicator 6.6.1, which measures the change in the extent of water-related ecosystems, will continue, with the hope of eventually reaching the target. Preserving these essential ecosystems remains a crucial objective for sustainable water resource management and environmental conservation.
Challenges and Obstacles of SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- Money — Achieving SDG 6’s ambitious goals requires investments of over $1 trillion annually. However, the sector’s ability to generate revenue is limited as improved public health, ecosystem preservation, and climate resilience cannot be easily monetized. This undervaluation of water resources hinders the development of sustainable financing models.
- Regulations — The available funding is hard to implement efficiently due to fragmentation and inefficiencies within the water sector. Other factors slowing progress are inadequate data, a lack of sector knowledge among financiers, and limited analytical tools for assessing complex water-related investments.
- Gender Disparities — They lead to insufficient human resources, weak governance and institutional frameworks, financial constraints, and a failure to attract a skilled workforce, especially women. The conservative nature of the water sector, which is often hesitant to embrace and share new technologies, limits innovation.
- Governance — Institutional arrangements and mandates can overlap, leading to weak enforcement and governance. These challenges are deepened in transboundary settings, where national interests and unequal power dynamics limit cooperation and data sharing.
Innovative Solutions and Best Practices for SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
The global community can overcome the problems that stand in the way of providing clean water and sanitation for everyone by using advanced technology, embracing nature-based solutions, and creating new ways to fund these initiatives.
- Smart water management systems use data analytics, sensors, and artificial intelligence to monitor water quality, detect leaks, and optimize water distribution.
- Advanced wastewater treatment technologies, such as membrane bioreactors and electrocoagulation, are helping to reclaim and purify wastewater for reuse in agriculture and industry.
- Rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge systems harness nature’s capacity to capture and store water, addressing water scarcity and promoting sustainable water use.
- Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment provide cost-effective and environmentally friendly sanitation alternatives.
- Social impact bonds, which link financial returns to achieving specific water-related outcomes, encourage private investments in water projects.
- Blended finance approaches combine public and private capital to finance infrastructure projects, facilitating large-scale initiatives.
- Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies have been explored to enable transparent, secure transactions in the water sector, potentially attracting new sources of investment.
Meet HomeBiogas – Turn Your Organic Waste into Clean, Renewable Cooking Gas & Rich Fertilizer for Your Backyard
HomeBiogas is a game-changer in organic waste management. HomeBiogas systems transform kitchen scraps and organic materials into clean, renewable cooking gas, reducing the need for traditional energy sources and the associated carbon emissions. Moreover, the resulting byproduct is rich fertilizer, excellent for sustainable agricultural practices that don’t pollute groundwaters with synthetic fertilizers.
The HomeBiogas Bio Toilet Kit is another remarkable innovation that embodies the principles of water conservation and sustainability. This kit is designed to significantly reduce water consumption and transform waste into biogas for a water-efficient waste management solution.
By reducing the demand for water in waste management, everyone can participate actively in water conservation efforts, in line with the objectives of SDG 6.
Embracing self-sufficiency through innovations like HomeBiogas embodies the concept of “thinking global, acting local.” While the world’s water-saving projects are essential, individual commitment to sustainable living at home plays a pivotal role. It’s about doing our part, one household at a time, collectively contributing to a more sustainable, water-wise future.
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation calls us to action globally, emphasizing the critical importance of water conservation and sustainable sanitation practices. With progress slower than expected, more is needed to ensure water and sanitation for everyone. Sustainable management powered by nature-based solutions, technological advancements, and innovative financing mechanisms can accelerate progress to provide adequate and equitable sanitation worldwide.
While governments worldwide focus on large water-saving initiatives, we must also recognize the power of individual contributions. Innovations like HomeBiogas’s bio toilet kit showcase how we can optimize consumption and lead self-sufficient lives in our homes, minimizing our water footprint and producing clean energy and fertilizers.
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