Look around the world. In the year 2022, one-quarter of us depend on intermittent, unsafe water supplies that regularly cause disease and even death for millions of women, children and men.
Lack of water for personal and general hygiene allows viruses, such as covid-19, to mutate and flourish, putting everyone, everywhere, at risk. Around half of humanity has no safe sanitation services to dispose of human waste. Gardens, gutters, alleyways and parks are sites for open defecation, exposing human faeces in countless villages and neighbourhoods, allowing deadly diseases such as cholera and typhoid to spread.
Many businesses continually falter because they lack reliable water and sanitation services. Water resources are poorly protected and unfairly distributed. Unsafe water results in adults who are often too sick to work and children too unwell to go to school.
The impacts of this injustice go far beyond the communities living without water and sanitation. The health and prospects of wider society – indeed, the entire world – are constantly undermined and threatened by our failure to provide the most fundamental human services to a large part of the global population.
Today’s water and sanitation crisis
Collectively, we face a water and sanitation crisis . Today, more than 2 billion people live without safely managed water services. Around 3.6 billion have no safe toilet. Over 80% of wastewater is returned to the environment without being properly treated. And in many countries the loss of productivity to water- and sanitation-related diseases is estimated to cost up to 5% of gross domestic product.
As water knows no borders, this crisis is not confined to individual countries, or even to only a couple of regions. Transboundary, or shared, river basins provide 60% of the world’s freshwater flow and are home to 40% of the world’s population, making them essential to the global supply of domestic drinking water and sanitation. A lack of formal collaboration between countries in the management of these resources is contributing to the challenges we face.
Water and sanitation unlock other human rights
The human rights to drinking water and sanitation are essential to achieving all other human rights.
UN-Water was set up in 2003 to coordinate the water and sanitation programmes across the United Nations Member States, agencies and organisations, as well as the water-related activities of partners from civil society, academia, the private sphere and many other sectors.
Together, this is the UN-Water “family”. We are focused on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6): “to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030” .
Right now, SDG 6 is off track
This dedicated water goal is pivotal to the success of all 17 goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was created to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives of all humanity.
UN-Water’s role is to coordinate the United Nations’ efforts to tackle the water crisis, and to call upon the 193 United Nations Member States to urgently step up their efforts.
UN-Water launched the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework in 2020 to galvanise the international community. The Framework shows what we need to do and how to do it. We already have the expertise and tools – such as UN-Water’s Integrated Monitoring Initiative for SDG 6 , which brings together water and sanitation monitoring “focal points” from across the world, analyses the results and provides information that people can act upon.
Water is vital to a better future
What we now need is much faster progress towards SDG 6. This will help us address the impact of some of the biggest global challenges including climate change, rapid urbanisation and large-scale migration. A well-managed water cycle is essential to achieving sustainable development in so many of its key dimensions, including poverty reduction, access to healthy food, gender equality, and human and planetary health. And for this, countries must come together in the management of their shared water resources to ensure that they are managed in the most sustainable, equitable and collaborative manner.
There is clearly a lot of work ahead of us: the latest analysis shows that governments must quadruple their current rates of progress to get SDG 6 on track . With just eight years to go to the 2030 deadline, the UN-Water family is moving forward in unprecedented unity and with gathering momentum; Member States are prioritising water and sanitation as never before.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we live on a small planet, where none of us is isolated from the problems in our global community.
We must work together towards a more stable, equitable and sustainable future, and key to that is ensuring that every person on earth has access to sustainable drinking water and sanitation.