Sustainable Development Goal 6 goes beyond drinking water, sanitation and hygiene to also address the quality and sustainability of water resources, critical to the survival of people and the planet. Just over a quarter of people in low-income countries have access to an improved sanitation facility, compared with just over half in lower middle-income countries. Delivery of water supply and sanitation is not just a challenge of service provision; it is intrinsically linked with climate change, water resources management, water scarcity, and water quality.
A growing number of countries are confronting water stress, which now affects more than 2 billion people worldwide
Holistic management of the water cycle means taking into account the level of “water stress”, calculated as the ratio of total fresh water withdrawn by all major sectors to the total renewable freshwater resources in a particular country or region. Currently, water stress affects more than 2 billion people around the globe, a figure that is projected to rise. Water stress affects countries on every continent, which hinders the sustainability of natural resources, as well as economic and social development. While many regions are below the 25 per cent threshold that marks the beginning stages of physical water stress, huge differences are found within and among countries. In 2011, 41 countries experienced water stress, an increase from 36 countries in 1998. Of these, 10 countries—on the Arabian Peninsula and in Central Asia and Northern Africa—withdrew more than 100 per cent of their renewable freshwater resources.
Easing access to drinking water
In 2015, 91 percent of the world’s population had access to an improved water source, exceeding the Millennium Development Goal target of 88 percent. However, more than 660 million people still lack access to clean water, the majority of them in rural areas, predominantly in Sub- Saharan Africa (figure 6a). Even for those who have access to water, service is often inadequate or unsustainable, and water from an improved source can still be unsafe to drink.
Improving access to sanitation facilities
Only 68 percent of the world’s population has access to improved sanitation facilities, falling short of the Millennium Development Goal target of 77 percent (figure 6b). Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to ensure adequate sanitation for all and to end open defecation (target 6.2), which contaminates water and spreads diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, and dysentery. Around 842,000 people a year die from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking water, sanitation, or hygiene.3 Seven out of ten people who lack access to safe and hygienic toilet facilities live in rural areas, mostly in Sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia.