In 2015, the governments of the UN agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals to guide all countries as they aim to end extreme poverty, reduce inequalities and tackle climate change globally by 2030. SDG6 aims to ensure everyone has sustainably managed safe water and sanitation.

Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are human rights, but millions of people around the world have this access denied. Without access, people do not have an equal chance of being healthy, educated and financially secure. Achieving the goals can change this for everyone.

SDG6 – and its specific targets on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) – shows that world leaders understand the importance of making these essentials normal for the world's most marginalised people. But despite progress, 703 million people still don’t have clean water close to home and 1.5 billion don’t have a decent toilet of their own. This costs lives and prevents families, communities and countries from reaching their full potential. It is also a denial of people’s human rights to water and sanitation. 

Read more about the three pillars to achieving universal access to WASH

Accelerating progress

Our policy brief examines progress towards SDG6 so far, the challenges countries still face, and the key levers needed to reach communities worldwide.

Fatimata Coulibaly, 29, a member of the Benkadi women's group who is in charge of water monitoring and management, taking a reading of the water meter of the water tower, Kakounouso, Samabogo, Circle of Bla, Segou Region, Mali, February 2019.
Image: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

How will we achieve SDG6?

Systems strengthening is about strengthening the environment into which WASH services and behaviours are introduced, so that everyone continues to benefit long after construction of the facilities is finished. The approach is underpinned by the human rights to water and sanitation, and based on in-depth and continuous context analysis and learning. It aims to:

  • empower citizens to demand their rights
  • build strong and accountable governments at all levels
  • strengthen public institutional processes
  • demonstrate sustainable and inclusive models of WASH delivery that governments can scale up

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has recognised our systems strengthening approach as good practice to reach everyone with lasting WASH access. This recognition of our work as good practice will help highlight it to others working in WASH as a strong approach to reaching SDG6. 

Our approach

Making clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere will take sustained and coordinated efforts by the whole global community. We support communities to demand the services they are entitled to, and ensure nobody forgets the promises made. We also help governments to develop plans and policies that will enable them to reach everyone with sustainable WASH services, and help countries reach their goals.

We continue to improve how we work with others to reach interconnected goals, and push for urgent and effective action. We support the most marginalised people so that they know and can demand their rights to water and sanitation. And we track progress on implementation and financing, so people can hold governments to account and ensure the rights of everyone, everywhere are met with sustainable services that last long beyond 2030.

Latest resources and expert opinion

Top image: Bizuayehu Anteneh drinks clean water from a public tap installed near her house in Addis Alem Village, Amhara Regional State, Ethiopia, September 2021.

Page last updated: April 2024.