Sustainable Development Goal 6

Having clean water isn’t something we often have to think about in Australia. We have always expected clean water to be provided by our cities. Something that we don’t often realise is that there is a global water crisis happening in most countries around the world.

The facts

Many people still lack access to safely managed water supplies and sanitation facilities. Ensuring universal safe and affordable drinking water involves reaching over 800 million people who lack basic services and improving accessibility and safety of services for over two billion. In addition, water scarcity, flooding and lack of proper wastewater management hinder social and economic development. Some numbers:

  • In 2015, 29 per cent of the global population lacked safely managed drinking water supplies, and 61 per cent were without safely managed sanitation services.  In 2015, 892 million people continued to practise open defecation.

  • In 2015, only 27 per cent of the population in least developed countries (LDCs) had basic handwashing facilities.

  • More than 2 billion people globally are living in countries with excess water stress, defined as the ratio of total freshwater withdrawn to total renewable freshwater resources above a threshold of 25 per cent. Northern Africa and Western Asia experience water stress levels above 60 per cent, which indicates the strong probability of future water scarcity.

  • In 22 countries, mostly in the Northern Africa and Western Asia region and in the Central and Southern Asia region, the water stress level is above 70 per cent, indicating the strong probability of future water scarcity.

  • By 2050, it is projected that at least one in four people will suffer recurring water shortages.

Increasing water efficiency and improving water management are critical to balancing the competing and growing water demands from various sectors and users (The Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2018).

The focus of SDG 6

Progress in nutrition, health, education, work, equality, environmental protection and international cooperation are all related to the availability and sustainable management of water and universal access to effective systems for disposing of our waste. The first two targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6 encompass the core focus on water, sanitation and hygiene. Targets also include water provision beyond human use and interaction, and towards structural, ecosystem and governance needs regarding water management. At the same time, demand for water – from agriculture and industry as well as domestic use – is rapidly rising and water pollution and ecosystem degradation are being made worse by increasing amounts of untreated wastewater. And all of this is happening against a backdrop of climate change, which is playing havoc with the predictability of our most precious resource (UN Water 2018).

Leaving no one behind – Indigenous Australians and SDG 6

Despite Australia meeting the targets of this development goal, why do health issues related to water and sanitation continue to persist among remote indigenous Australian communities?

While the majority of Australians have access to safe drinking water, for many remote indigenous communities, the water supplies are unacceptable. In Western Australia, only 19% of remote Indigenous communities reported 100% microbiological compliance between 2012 and 2014. One in five of these communities also reported unsafe levels for nitrates or uranium.  For example, Trachoma is a bacterial infection associated with extreme poverty and generally occurs in areas with water scarcity, inadequate sanitation, and overcrowding. In 2016, trachoma was reported in indigenous communities in NSW, SA, WA and the NT, where 4.7% of children aged 5–9 years were estimated to have active trachoma (Transforming Australia Report, 2018). Research recommends that multifaceted health promotion interventions are the most likely to improve water-related health outcomes in these communities. This includes encouraging behaviour change, infrastructure maintenance, and a broad program targeting sanitation, nutrition, education and primary health care (UQ Global Change Institute, 2017).

SDG Video

The video on SDG 6 is created by our CR3+ partner ISAE Brazilian Business School (ISAE). Representatives of the university visited Sanipar, one of the largest sanitation companies in the country, and interviewed Prof Norman de Paula Arruda Filho, President of both Sanepar and ISAE Business School. Sanepar’s goal is to achieve universal environmental sanitation, completing the “river to river” cycle. The company defines itself as an environmental company; working toward the conservation of nature and prioritising sustainability (Sanepar Annual Report, 2018). In this video, Norman gives his view on sustainable development goal six, using the Iguaçu River in the state Parana as an example. He talks about the residential use of the river, the industrial use (mainly for generating energy), but also how the river is important for tourism. He emphasises the importance of education regarding the use of the river’s water and the need to collaborate on the access to waterways such as the Iguaçu River.

Please enjoy the presentation.

If you would like access to the full video to use in your teaching, please contact Dr Swati Nagpal.

This blog is part of the SDG Series, a series that focuses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, in the lead up to the CR3+ Conference in October 2019.

More blogs in the SDG Series:
- An introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 1
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 2
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 3
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 4
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 5