The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 is to ensure access to water and sanitation for all by 2030. Clean water for drinking and domestic use has been a long-term challenge in developing countries mainly due to lack of sufficient material to make available water safe for domestic use, and partly due to the dry settings of some of these countries where fresh water sources are scarce.
Apparently, 71% of the total earth surface is covered with water, a reality the UN, through its SDG 6, wants to make the most of. Of course not all of this water is clean enough for consumption and general domestic use – as only 2.5% of it is fresh – but then, according to a new Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, there is enough fresh water, if well exploited, to comfortably sustain every living creature on earth.
The report however issues a warning that the situation might worsen due to overconsumption, and that by 2050, one in four people is likely to live in a geographical location affected by recurring or chronic shortage of fresh water.
Scarcity of Clean Fresh Water
Currently, 40 percent (a proportion expected to rise) of the global population is being affected by scarcity of clean fresh water, and at least 1.8 billion people are using water from fecally contaminated sources.
This is after an improved proportion, from 76 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015, of the global population using an improved source of drinking water. What is likely to cause the projected decline in clean fresh water availability is the fact that currently, more than 80 percent of waste water resulting from human activities is discharged directly into oceans, rivers and lakes without any prior treatment, an alarming 17 percent increase from 1990’s 63 percent.
An estimated 2.4 billion people cannot access basic sanitation services such as latrines and toilets, and due to resultant outbreaks of sanitation and water-related diarrhoeal diseases, more than 1,000 children globally lose their lives each day.
SDG 6 to Ensure Access to Clean Water
Prior to the summit on Sustainable Development Goals, UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon spoke of the global water and sanitation situation as a very sorry state that the international community ought to end as soon as possible.
SDG 6 was discussed by international leaders at the summit and the following targets were set with regard to its implementation by 2030:
- Ensure each and every person can access a source of safe drinking water at an affordable cost by ensuring appropriate treatment is done to fresh but unclean water sources, and ensuring that there is sufficient supply of safe water to residential areas such that no one is more than 100 metres away from the nearest tap.
- Achieve equitable global access to adequate hygiene and sanitation, and end open defecation, giving more priority to the needs of children under five, girls, women and people in vulnerable situations. This will be done by providing free sanitary towels to girls and women in developing nations who can’t afford them, potties to mothers of little children, portable toilets and sinks to people living in slums, and special sanitation facilities for the disabled and people in other forms of vulnerable situations.
- Increase quality of water for drinking and household use by eliminating release of hazardous substances into water sources and reducing pollution in general, substantially reducing the global percentage of untreated waste water, and promoting safe reuse and recycling, especially in countries with dry climate where water shortage is likely to be experienced.
The UN plans to prod governments of all the 189 nations under the UN to formulate and implement laws that will restrict factories from dumping in water sources, or at least compel them to treating waste water before releasing it. The governments will also be needed to provide sufficient sewerages, in residential and industrial areas, as a measure to reduce the amount of waste released to rivers and other water sources.
- Increase efficiency in water-use in all sectors by holding global campaigns to teach people on how to minimise on water wastage, and why it’s necessary.
- Enhance proper management of fresh water resources at all levels, including via transboundary cooperation if necessary.
Most natural fresh water sources such as lakes and rivers are not, or are poorly managed, and thus pollution is not controlled, contributing to gradual deterioration of general water condition, and diminution of the proportion of safe water for drinking and indoor use. With better management, time to time cleaning of the sources will take place, water weeds will be removed early before spreading and pollution from homes and factories will be substantially reduced.
- By 2020, ensure all water-catchment areas such as forests and mountains are well protected by discouraging human settlement and uncontrolled and illegal cutting of trees in these areas. Also, the UN plans to improve the general condition and usefulness of these places by removing any hindrance factors and planting as many more trees as possible.
- Promote and support participation of immediate communities in enhancing and improving sanitation and water management.
- Expand capacity-building support and international cooperation to developing countries in sanitation and water-related programmes and activities, including, reuse and recycling technologies, waste water treatment, water efficiency, desalination and water harvesting.
Water is not just important for drinking and household use, but also for outdoor purposes such as electricity production and irrigation. Hydropower is currently the most widely-used and important renewable source of energy in most developing countries, making for an estimated 16 percent of total energy production worldwide. Most developed countries have switched to other renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, but hydropower remains the undisputed source as it generally yields larger quantities of energy and is not easily affected by weather and climate changes.
From an agricultural perspective, more than 70 percent of all water obtained from aquifers, rivers and lakes globally is used for irrigation.
On the flipside, water, in the form of floods and other related disasters, causes approximately 70 percent of all natural disaster-related deaths, according to a UNEP report.
Clean Water Situation Worsening
While the international community has been recording substantial improvement in other global crises such as poverty, lack of education and malnutrition, the water and sanitation situation is steadily worsening. The scarcity of water and exposure to poor water quality and insufficient sanitation levels has a direct or indirect negative impact on livelihood choices, food security and educational progress for poor adults and children across the world.
Droughts hit some of the poorest regions in the world, worsening malnutrition and hunger situations, and if we can’t protect the few sources of fresh water we have, we might as well be unable to save the lives of our children in developing countries.
Implementation of each and every plan aimed at achieving the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6 are set to start immediately the 2030 agenda kicks off in 2016 in a bid to curb the effects of the current water and sanitation situation before it hits an uncontrollable and unmanageable level.