Beyond SDG6: how tackling the sanitation crisis helps achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/ Apagnawen Annankra

Sanitation and water for all by 2030 forms Sustainable Development Goal 6, but action on sanitation goes far beyond this one goal. Based on analysis of more than 500 studies, a team from WaterAid and University College London has developed three principles to show how action on sanitation helps towards almost all SDG targets and highlight the potential of investment in sanitation.

Some 3.6 billion people live without adequate sanitation, a situation that has impacts on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To assess these effects, a cross-disciplinary team at University College London (UCL) analysed more than 500 publications and found that integrated action on sanitation is linked to all 17 goals and has positive synergies with 130 out of the 169 SDG targets (77%) .

These links are wide ranging and include the areas of health, education, the economy, climate change and gender and equity. This evidence resonated with WaterAid's work to ensure under-served communities have clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, and formed the basis of a new partnership between WaterAid and UCL.

With the WaterAid-UCL project beginning to show new ways to harness the far-reaching benefits of investing in safe sanitation, we conducted workshops for a variety of stakeholders (the African Ministers' Council on Water, the African Development Bank, World Bank and the End Water Poverty coalition of NGOs). Together, we developed powerful materials for policy makers and practitioners to facilitate dialogues and foster investment and action in sanitation.

Malala, 16, standing in front of the new sanitation block at her school in Manjakandriana commune, Madagascar. Integration sanitation actions have the potential to impact on SDG 4: Quality Education, Targets 4.1–4.c. Image: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Principles to guide sanitation policy, programmes and strategies

Our three core principles

At the core of these materials are three principles to help maximise the links between action on sanitation and 130 SDG targets – for policy development, advocacy and programme design:

  1. Achieving multiple benefits
  2. Identifying commonly missed opportunities
  3. Leveraging equitable outcomes

We outline these principles in a policy brief which highlights the cross-sectoral benefits that can be leveraged through integrated action in the sanitation value chain. First, the connection between sanitation and education, climate change and wellbeing. Second, the power to harness commonly missed opportunities for innovation, livelihoods and the sustainable use of resources. Third, the multiplicity of synergies between equity and sanitation interventions that support particular groups such as children, older people and women.

To provide practical insights into these principles, we collected case studies detailing three integrated sanitation interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Achieving multiple benefits

Project Malio: a community-led approach to eliminate open defecation and facilitating sustained behaviour in Madagascar (SEED Madagascar).

Project Malio is an example of how Principle 1 (achieving multiple benefits) can be applied in development plans that link action in sanitation to progress in health, education and climate change.

The project, by the charity SEED Madagascar, supported the construction and improvement of sanitation infrastructure in Tolanaro (formerly Port-Dauphin). The case study shows how improved access to sanitation facilities has the potential to impact targets across six SDGs, including SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing, SDG 13: Climate Action and SDG 4: Quality Education.

Identifying commonly missed opportunities

The National Integrated Urban Sanitation Strategy in Ethiopia (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia).

The National Integrated Urban Sanitation and Hygiene Strategy in Ethiopia led by its Ministry of Health illustrates the second principle. This case study highlights the potential of action on sanitation to harness commonly missed opportunities for innovation, livelihoods and sustainable resource use.

The strategy included supporting decentralised sanitation systems and sanitation-related micro-enterprises, with job creation in and outside the public sector. By linking sanitation to productivity and industry, this case study shows how Principle 2 can be applied to reinforce bids for funding and initiatives to increase investment in sanitation.

Leveraging equitable outcomes

A latrine artisan training, part of the WASH for Public Health programme in Ghana (WaterAid).

Similarly, legal frameworks, strategies and funding bids can follow Principle 3 to ensure leveraging the multiplicity of synergies between equity and sanitation interventions. The third case study in our extended policy brief showcases WaterAid's latrine artisan training in Ghana. This programme created livelihood opportunities for women and expanded women’s participation in decision-making processes for sanitation.

A case for investing in safe sanitation

The principles are a tool that both functions as a compass for policy, programme and strategy development and to bolster investment and political will to advance the goal of safe sanitation for all. The case studies show practitioners the policies and interventions at different governmental levels and in diverse geographies, as real-life examples of the potential of following the principles.

Our briefs can be used to develop National Development Plans, country strategies, proposals and sector coordination meetings, expanding the guidelines for practitioners and policy makers engaged in supporting safe sanitation. The policy brief and case studies can also be used as a resource for action research.

Explore the project The core UCL-WaterAid team was: Dedo Mate-Kodjo (WaterAid Pan Africa Programme Manager); Ada Oko-Williams (WaterAid Senior WASH Manager); Professor Priti Parikh and Dr Loan Diep (UCL Engineering for International Development Centre); Dr Pascale Hofmann, Dr Kerry Bobbins and Maria Jose Nieto (UCL Development Planning Unit); Professor Luiza Campos (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering); Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health); and Dr Ine Steenmans (UCL Science, Technology, Engineering & Public Policy).

Top image: Gladys, mother of four, is a latrine artisan and groundnut and millet farmer, in Akundo, Apeelinga, Ghana.