Access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being. Billions of people will lack access to these basic services in 2030 unless progress quadruples. Demand for water is rising owing to rapid population growth, urbanization, and increasing water needs from the agriculture, industry, and energy sectors.
Decades of misuse, poor management, over-extraction of groundwater, and contamination of freshwater supplies have exacerbated water stress. In addition, countries are facing growing challenges linked to degraded water-related ecosystems, water scarcity caused by climate change, underinvestment in water and sanitation, and insufficient cooperation on transboundary waters.
To reach universal access to drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene by 2030, the current rates of progress would need to increase fourfold. Achieving these targets would save 829,000 people annually, who die from diseases directly attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.
“The Water Summit in March must result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.” – Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Water is at the core of sustainable development. It is essential for human well-being, energy and food production, healthy ecosystems, gender equality, poverty reduction, and more. Access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (SDG 6) is the most basic human need for health and well-being.
But decades of misuse, poor management, over-extraction of groundwater, and contamination of freshwater supplies have exacerbated water stress. This leads to negative impacts on human health, economic activities, and food and energy supplies.
The world is facing a crisis of “too much water” (extreme rainfalls and flooding), “too little water” (droughts and groundwater scarcity), and “too dirty water” (pollution). Urgent action is needed to ensure a sustainable and equitable distribution of water for all needs. This month’s UN 2023 Water Conference will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise awareness, define a roadmap and advance the water agenda.
Facts & Figures
- In 2020, 74 percent of the global population had access to safely managed drinking water services, up from 70 percent in 2015. Still, two billion people live without safely managed drinking water services, including 1.2 billion people lacking even a basic level of service, in 2020.
- Between 2015 and 2020, the population with safely managed sanitation increased from 47 percent to 54 percent and the population with access to handwashing facilities with soap and water in the home increased from 67 percent to 71 percent. Rates of progress for these basic services would need to quadruple for universal coverage to be reached by 2030.
- At the current rates of progress, 1.6 billion people will lack safely managed drinking water, 2.8 billion people will lack safely managed sanitation, and 1.9 billion people will lack basic hand hygiene facilities in 2030.
- Eight out of 10 people who lack even basic drinking water services live in rural areas, and about half of them live in the least developed countries (LDCs).
- Water use efficiency worldwide rose from $17.4 per cubic meter in 2015 to $19.4 per cubic meter in 2019, a 12 percent efficiency increase.
- Assessment of rivers, lakes, and aquifers in 97 countries in 2020 shows that 60 percent of water bodies have good water quality. For at least 3 billion people, the quality of the water they rely upon is unknown owing to a lack of monitoring.
- From 2015 to 2020, the population practicing open defecation decreased by a third, from 739 million people to 494 million. The world is on track to eliminate open defecation by 2030.
- Over the past 300 years, over 85 percent of the planet’s wetlands have been lost, mainly through drainage and land conversion, with many remaining wetland areas degraded. Since 1970, 81 percent of species dependent on inland wetlands have declined faster than those relying on other biomes, and an increasing number of these species are facing extinction.
- Across the world, water stress levels remained safe at 18.6 percent in 2019. However, Southern Asia and Central Asia registered high levels of water stress at over 75 percent, whereas Northern Africa registered a critical water stress level of over 100 percent. Since 2015, water stress levels have increased significantly in Western Asia and Northern Africa.
- Data from 2017 and 2020 suggest only 32 countries have 90 percent or more of their transboundary waters covered by cross-border cooperative arrangements.
Goal 6 Targets
6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes
6. A By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
6. B Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management