The Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals, one key enabler
Goal 6 is a key enabler to achieve the whole of Agenda 2030. Lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services undermines human rights, exacerbates poverty and will continue to leave the most marginalised communities behind.
Agenda 2030 – the Sustainable Development Goals – is ambitious. 17 goals. 244 indicators. To achieve this feat of global development, we must recognise how progress in one area aids progress in another. Goal 6 is one of the most interconnected goals. Increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) aids economic development, poverty reduction, education, health and more.
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
A lack of access to WASH services has many health and economic benefits, detailed below. We will not end poverty when there are still 844 million people without access to water and 2.3 billion people without access to sanitation.
Prioritising WASH supports poverty reduction by opening up educational and economic opportunities.
Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
155 million children under the age of five are affected by stunting, and 50 million children are affected by wasting. Half of these chronic cases of undernutrition are related to infections caused by poor access to WASH. Repeated infections affect how nutrients are absorbed within the body and inhibit development.
Prioritising WASH in communities allows children to grow healthier and stronger and live better lives.
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
Access to WASH has transformative health benefits for all ages. It reduces infant mortality, diarrhoea, cholera, pneumonia, sepsis, trachoma and more. In healthcare facilities in low/middle-income countries 38% of healthcare facilities do not have water access, 19% do not have improved sanitation and 35% do not have water and soap for handwashing. This lack of services compromises the ability to provide basic, routine services, such as child delivery and the ability to prevent and control infections.
Prioritising WASH in healthcare facilities and communities reduces illness and infections and ultimately saves and improves lives.
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Schools without decent water, sanitation and hygiene access have a higher rate of disease transmission and diarrhoeal illnesses, leaving students vulnerable. Lack of menstrual hygiene facilities causes girls to miss school during their period, further increasing gender disparities in education.
Prioritising WASH in schools allows children to be safe and comfortable in school, leaving them to focus on their education.
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Lack of WASH access disproportionately affects women. When there are no facilities at schools, clinics and other public places women cannot manage their menstruation hygienically, in privacy and with dignity. This results in negative health effects and reduces women's ability to access education and economic opportunities, which perpetuates inequalities.
Prioritising WASH allows women to focus on accessing the economic and educational opportunities they deserve.
Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
Agriculture makes up nearly 70% of freshwater withdrawals, making water access essential for the quarter of the global workforce who rely on agriculture for their income. 263 million people spend more than 30 minutes collecting water, time which could have been spent on participating in income-generating actives.
Prioritising WASH allows resilient agricultural practices and increased time for income-generating activities, relieving farmers from food insecurity and providing a key tool to reduce poverty.
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
WASH access disproportionately affects the most marginalised communities. Those living in poverty, with disabilities, and in rural or slum areas are less likely to have access to WASH services. This exacerbates the inequalities that already exist in societies, and creates a cycle of poverty.
Prioritising access to WASH for all, especially the most marginalised, would ensure that we are truly leaving no one behind.
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
By 2050 70% of the world’s population will be based in urban centres. With slums and peri-urban areas expanding, it is essential to ensure that WASH services are prioritised, especially faecal sludge management.
Prioritising urban WASH will allow cities to grow healthier and cleaner and become more sustainable.
Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Climate change will continue to increase the chances of extreme weather events and water insecurity. Water resources becoming increasingly fragile is likely to impact the most marginalised communities, who are often living in rural areas and in extreme poverty.
Prioritising WASH resilience will mean that communities can adapt to climate change and reduce the need for people to turn to unsafe water supplies.
Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Globally more than 80% of all wastewater is discharged directly into the environment without treatment, affecting water sources and polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. This pollution affects water sources and in the long term disrupts ecosystems. The wildlife that inhabits these areas is not only harmed, but is in turn harmful to the people in surrounding communities. This environmental damage costs billions of dollars, affecting sustainability and the economy on a global scale.
Prioritising WASH services, particularly faecal sludge management, will reduce the amount of untreated waste dumped into rivers, lakes and oceans.
Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
By 2030, the population is expected to reach 8.5 billion. 844 million people are already living without access to basic water supplies, making it more important than ever that the earth’s resources are effectively managed. With current population growth and water management practices, the world will face a 40% shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030. Good management of water resources, transboundary co-operation and participation of local communities is vital as resources are depleted and the potential for conflict over them increases.
Prioritising WASH management will reduce water insecurity and conflict and promote peace.
Visit our SDG page to learn more about the 2030 Agenda, and our work related to SDG 6. This article was first published on WASHwatch on 31 May 2018.