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SDG #6

Ensuring Access to Clean Water and Sanitation for All

Access to clean water and proper sanitation is often taken for granted in our daily lives. However, this fundamental requirement is still only a faraway dream for millions of people around the world. In light of this, the UN passed a resolution in 2010 acknowledging access to clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right and requiring all UN member states to contribute financial resources, technological capacity, and other means to assist developing nations in providing safe, clean, usable, and affordable drinking water and sanitation[1]. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) aims to address this pressing issue by ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all. In this article, we will explore the overview of SDG 6, why it matters, the progress made so far, the challenges faced, and the way forward.

Overview of SDG 6

The SDG 6 goal, "Clean Water and Sanitation," acknowledges that having access to clean, affordable drinking water and sufficient sanitary facilities is a fundamental human right. It includes several targets, such as ensuring access to appropriate sanitation and hygiene, raising water use efficiency, establishing universal and equitable access to clean and inexpensive drinking water, and protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems.

Today 2.2 billion individuals worldwide continue to live without access to safe drinking water, whiles 4.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation[2]. Shockingly, one in three people globally lacks access to safe drinking water, while two out of five individuals lack a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water, whiles over 673 million people, approximately 9% of the global population, continue to practice open defecation [1]. Although some progress has been made in recent years, the world is falling short of achieving the targets set under SDG 6. These figures emphasise the critical need to expedite efforts and take immediate action to address the challenges hindering the achievement of SDG 6.

Why SDG 6 Matters

Sustainable development is contingent upon having access to sanitation services and water. The most vulnerable groups, including women, children, and underserved areas, are disproportionately impacted by a lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation. The COVID19 pandemic has brought to light the importance of cleanliness and handwashing in disease prevention (SDG 3). However, because water is necessary for the production of food, energy, goods, and services in every area of society, the connection between SDG6 and the other SDGs cannot be ignored.

Let’s have a look at some facts about global access to water and sanitation:

1. Access to Safely Managed Drinking Water

  • In 2020, 74% of the global population had access to safely managed drinking water services, an increase from 70% in 2015.

  • However, two billion people still live without safely managed drinking water services.

  • In 2020, 1.2 billion people lacked even a basic level of drinking water service.

2. Safely Managed Sanitation and Handwashing Facilities

  • Between 2015 and 2020, the population with safely managed sanitation increased from 47% to 54%.

  • The population with access to handwashing facilities with soap and water at home increased from 67% to 71%.

  • Quadrupling the rate of progress is necessary to achieve universal coverage by 2030.

3. Projected Gaps by 2030

  • If current rates of progress continue, 1.6 billion people will lack safely managed drinking water, 2.8 billion people will lack managed sanitation, and 1.9 billion people will lack basic hand hygiene facilities in 2030.

4. Disparities in Rural Areas and Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

  • Eight out of 10 people lacking basic drinking water services live in rural areas, with around half of them residing in the least developed countries (LDCs).

5. Water Use Efficiency and Water Quality

  • Water use efficiency globally increased by 12%, from $17.4 per cubic meter in 2015 to $19.4 per cubic meter in 2019.

  • In 2020, 60% of assessed water bodies (rivers, lakes, and aquifers) in 97 countries had good water quality.

  • Lack of monitoring leaves the water quality for at least 3 billion people unknown.

6. Progress in Eliminating Open Defecation

  • From 2015 to 2020, the population practicing open defecation decreased by a third, from 739 million to 494 million.

  • The world is on track to eliminate open defecation by 2030.

7. Loss of Wetlands and Declining Species

  • Over the past 300 years, more than 85% of the planet's wetlands have been lost due to drainage and land conversion.

  • Species dependent on inland wetlands have declined faster than those relying on other biomes since 1970, with an increasing number facing extinction.

8. Water Stress Levels

  • Water stress levels were safe across the world at 18.6% in 2019.

  • Southern Asia and Central Asia experienced high water stress levels, over 75%.

  • Northern Africa registered a critical water stress level of over 100%.

  • Water stress levels have significantly increased in Western Asia and Northern Africa since 2015.

9. Cross-Border Cooperation for Transboundary Waters

  • Data from 2017 and 2020 indicate that only 32 countries have 90% or more of their transboundary waters covered by cross-border cooperative arrangements.

The journey towards achieving SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation - is a tale of progress, challenges, and the pressing need for immediate action. The findings resonate with a sense of urgency, highlighting both the strides made and the obstacles that still lie in our path. As we delve into the narrative of SDG 6, it becomes evident that this goal holds a pivotal role in our collective quest for a sustainable future in areas such as:

  • Health: Access to clean water and sanitation facilities is crucial for maintaining good health. Lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery, which can be life-threatening.

  • Poverty reduction: Improving access to clean water and sanitation is a key factor in reducing poverty, as it can help improve productivity, reduce healthcare costs, and increase school attendance rates, particularly for girls.

  • Environmental sustainability: Sustainable water management practices, such as rainwater harvesting and water conservation, can help preserve natural resources and protect ecosystems.

  • Human rights: Access to clean water and sanitation is recognized as a basic human right by the United Nations. Ensuring that everyone has access to clean water and sanitation facilities is therefore a matter of social justice and equality.

  • Economic development: Access to clean water and sanitation is essential for economic development, as it can help improve agricultural production, promote food security, and contribute to the growth of businesses and industries.

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, notwithstanding developments, achieving SDG 6 still faces many obstacles. But there are several problems preventing everyone from having access to clean water and sanitary facilities today, including the increasing demand for water resources brought on by population increase, urbanization, industrialization, climate change, pollution, and the degradation of the environment. The achievement of SDG 6's objectives will be significantly hampered by various regional problems, not least of which are insufficient infrastructure, a lack of money, and a lack of knowledge about the significance of clean water and sanitation.

Collective action and all-encompassing strategies are needed to hasten the development of SDG 6. Governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector must prioritize investments in infrastructure for water and sanitation, enhance the management of water resources, boost institutional and governance capacities, and encourage behavior change through awareness and education campaigns. Sustainable development requires integrated strategies that take into account how water, sanitation, and other SDGs, including gender equality, health, and education, are interconnected.

For economic growth, environmental sustainability, and human health and well-being, access to clean water and sanitation is fundamental. Regardless of one's socioeconomic situation or location, everyone should have access to this fundamental human right. We can get closer to the goal of SDG 6 and build a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation, leaving no one behind, by addressing the issues, spending money on infrastructure, and encouraging teamwork.


[1] United Nations. (2021). Sustainable Development Goals. ↵

[2] Water and Sanitation | Department of Economic and Social Affairs

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