Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation


The UN aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030 with SDG 6. We often fail to understand the importance of clean water and sanitation and how we actually benefit from it. Sustainable management of water resources and access to safe water and sanitation is essential to promote economic growth and productivity. 

It also provides significant leverage for existing investment in health and education. 

According to the UN Environment Programme, more than 80% of waste water resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal. Nutrient pollution can affect vital ground water and drinking water sources. Surface waters, like lakes, rivers and streams, provide drinking water for many people. Some of these waters are impaired by excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. 

As ground water works its way through the soil, it can pick up excess nutrients and transport them to the water table. When polluted groundwater reaches drinking water systems it can pose serious public health threats.

“The Earth doesn’t belong to a man, man belongs to the Earth”

Clean water is one of the few things in life that is a necessity for human existence. Every year, millions of people die from diseases caused by inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Other than pneumonia, diarrhea is the main cause of death in children under age 5.

Although our planet has sufficient fresh water to achieve a regular and clean water supply for all, bad economics and poor infrastructure can skew supply unfavourably. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition. Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70% of all deaths related to natural disasters. Global goals and national priorities on reliable energy, economic growth, resilient infrastructure, sustainable industrialisation, consumption and production, and food security, are all inextricably linked to a sustainable supply of clean water. 

Protection of water related ecosystems also provides social and economic benefits to people. The declining condition of the ecosystems directly impacts water availability as well as other essential services, such as biodiversity, food production and flood control. 

The amount of water stored in a given ecosystem is a key indicator of ecosystem health. For eg, wetlands are an important source of freshwater and it’s heart wrenching to see that only 2.5% of water on earth is freshwater. Less than 1% of that is usable. These act as nature’s shock absorbers. However, 50% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed. 

The chart below shows the decline in wetlands extent over time.

So, what is the UN doing ?

The Sustainable Development Goals have committed the international community to expand international cooperation and capacity building on water and sanitation related activities and programmes, and also to support local communities in improving water and sanitation management. Through Goal 6, the countries of the world have resolved to achieve universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene to all in the next fifteen years.

The UN also targets certain goals by 2030, which are as follows-

  • By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
  • By 2030, 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.
  • By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
  • By 2030, 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.
  • By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary co-operation as appropriate.
  • By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
  • By 2030, expand international co-operation 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.

What can we do ?

As responsible individuals, we can educate people around us, and help them raise awareness about the hygiene-related issues in our community through social media, school/university campaigns or even a campaign in the neighborhood. 

Organize a clean up project for rivers and oceans by engaging the whole community to clean up a local river, seaside or an ocean.