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SDG: Water and Sanitation

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With a view to addressing the global water crisis, the United Nations saw the need to include a goal that dealt with the problem of water scarcity, quality and sanitation. On this post, we will examine the many targets that have been defined as well as the main problems that hinder their fulfilment.

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Water is an essential element, a sine qua non for most of the processes that take place on our planet, whether they be of natural origin or due to human activities.  In order to really understand the role it plays, we have to look at water from a multidimensional perspective, in other words, bearing in mind its impact on life, ecosystems, climate, demography and socioeconomic activities, among other factors.

Scarcity or a lack of access to water resources, poor management or poor sanitation, coupled with the aggravating effect of the continuous increase in population and natural disasters, have turned water into a critical element that calls for diligent action.

The sixth Sustainable Development Goal aims to ensure access to water, sustainable management and sanitation for all.

189 United Nations member states have shown that they are aware of this by including water issues in the Millennium Development Goals that were published back in 2000 at the vMillennium Summit. Specifically, the goal was to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

As a result of these actions, access to drinking water improved overall. Since 1990, access to better sources of drinking water has opened up to 2.6 billion people, of which 1.9 billion have been able to get it through pipes into their own homes.

This result was certainly a significant achievement, but it has not been enough to solve the water crisis. Further action is necessary and efforts and investment must be directed not only at solving access problems, but also at scarcity and the issues of quality and sanitation.

Given the need to continue fighting against the water crisis, the UN has included an action goal for water quality and sanitation in the Agenda 2030..

That is why the United Nations decided to include an objective for water and sanitation in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, with the following targets:

  • Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
  • Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
  • Improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
  • Substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
  • Implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate.
  • Protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
  • Expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency,wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.
  • Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

In order to meet the needs of the Agenda 2030, the United Nations has set up the SDG 6 Integrated Monitoring Initiative, taking advantage of the lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals. This initiative brings together all the agencies that act as custodians and monitor the compliance of the performance indicators for the targets set, and here we can highlight the water supply monitoring programmes of the World Health Organizationand​​Unicef, or the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS).

Indicators show that one of the main problems relating to the SDG 6 centers on funding. According to the latest report by UN-Water GLAAS, 80 % of countries report that they currently do not have sufficient funding to meet national targets for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Moreover, only a third of the countries have well-defined and agreed financial plans that are reviewed continuously.

So it is clear that there is much to be done. It is vital that efforts are directed towards establishing policies that favor investment in infrastructure and sanitation, as well as the need to increase international cooperation in promoting efficiency and treatment technologies in developing countries. At the same time, we must not overlook the need to restore water ecosystems. Only by doing this will we ease the problem of scarcity and ensure global access to drinking water in a secure and affordable way as we reach the year 2030.

Pablo Collazo Sánchez

Pablo Collazo Sánchez. Corporate Social Responsibility Department, Abengoa

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