Never before has the global population collectively faced a threat like COVID-19. However, while this new coronavirus threatens rich and poor alike, the vulnerabilities of different population groups and their abilities to manage the risk are far from equal.
In most developed countries, this might be the first time many people have realised that good public health, and the systems and infrastructure that sustain and protect it, is the most fundamental bulwark against personal and societal disaster.
For billions of people who have been living without safe water or sanitation for many years before COVID-19 hit – perhaps since they were born – the terrifying danger posed by infectious diseases has long been a daily reality.
Today, there are 2.2 billion people around the world who still lack safely managed drinking water, including 785 million without basic drinking water.
And while the proportion of the global population using safely managed sanitation services increased from 28 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2017, 4.2 billion people worldwide still lack safely managed sanitation, including 2 billion without basic sanitation. Of these, 673 million people practise open defecation.
This is the global sanitation crisis we face.
At UN-Water, we coordinate the United Nations’ response. Together with our partners, the focus is on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6): ‘to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030’.
Unfortunately, with less than ten years to go, the world is alarmingly off-track to meet this goal.
There are three main challenges we have to overcome:
- Global demand for water is rocketing, while many water sources are becoming more polluted.
- Agriculture is getting thirstier, as is industry, manufacturing and energy generation.
- Climate change is making water scarcer and more unpredictable, wreaking havoc and displacing millions of people.
A lack of progress towards SDG 6 risks the entire international sustainable development agenda and the aim to eradicate extreme poverty
A lack of progress towards SDG 6 risks the entire international sustainable development agenda and the overarching aim to eradicate extreme poverty by the end of this decade.
We can and must turn this around.
To help make this change happen, during the 2020 Session of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July, UN-Water introduced the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework – a new, unifying initiative that involves all sectors of society to speed up progress. The intent is for the UN system and its multi-stakeholder partners to unify the international community’s support to countries – driven by national-level demand and coordinating through UN-Water – for achieving SDG 6.
We have examples from many countries around the world which prove that dramatic gains in water and sanitation are possible in just a few years and that some of the solutions are inexpensive, effective and can be quickly deployed.
So, what’s new about the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework?
- One: an increased focus on concrete country support will enable a scaled-up impact at the country level.
- Two: a clear commitment from Principals of UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes will enable UN entities to work better together. This represents a unique shift in how the UN system and its partners deliver collectively.
- And, three: a multi-stakeholder, high-level, annual stock-taking moment (scheduled for 2023 in New York) will enable stakeholders to keep up momentum on SDG 6, as well as share lessons and best practices.
The onus falls on all of us to act. Absolutely everyone has a role to play in solving the water and sanitation crisis.
Let us tackle this challenge together and learn from one another. Please take action in two ways.
- Record your initiatives as part of the SDG Acceleration Actions. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/partnership/register/?source=90&goal=6
- Add your name and join the community finding solutions to the water and sanitation crisis. https://www.unwater.org/campaign/take-action/