The Sustainable Development Agenda: 17 goals, one key enabler

Posted on 31/05/2018 by Lucy Morrell (WaterAid UK)

WASHwatch has launched a SDG hub to bring together resources to track progress and accelerate the SDG agenda. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is ambitious. 17 goals. 244 indicators. To achieve this feat of global development we must recognise how progress in one area, aids progress in another. Goal 6 is one of the most interconnected goals. Increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene, aids economic development, poverty reduction, education, health and more.

Goal 1. End Poverty in all its forms everywhere

A lack of access to WASH services has many health and economic benefits detailed below. We will not end poverty when there are still 844 million people without access to water and 2.3 billion people without access to sanitation.

Prioritising WASH supports poverty reduction by opening up educational and economic opportunities.

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

155 million children under the age of five are affected by stunting, and 50 million children are affected by wasting. Half of these chronic cases of undernutrition are related to infections caused by poor access to WASH. Repeated infections affect how nutrients are absorbed within the body and inhibit development.

Prioritising WASH in communities allows children to grow healthier, stronger and live better lives.

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages

Access to WASH has transformative health benefits for all ages. It reduces infant mortality, diarrhoea, cholera, pneumonia, sepsis, trachoma and more. In healthcare facilities in low/middle income countries 38% of health care facilities do not have water access, 19% do not have improved sanitation and 35% do not have water and soap for handwashing. This lack of services compromises the ability to provide basic, routine services, such as child delivery and the ability to prevent and control infections.

Prioritising WASH in health care facilities and communities reduces illness and infections and ultimately saves and improves lives.

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Schools without decent water, sanitation and hygiene access have a higher rate of disease transmissions, diarrhoeal illnesses and leave students vulnerable. Lack of menstrual hygiene facilities causes girls to miss school during their period, further increasing gender disparities in education.

Prioritising WASH in schools allows children to be safe and comfortable in school, leaving them to focus on their education.

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Lack of WASH access disproportionately affects women. When there are no facilities at schools, clinics and other public places women are unable to manage their menstruation hygienically, in privacy and with dignity. This results in negative health impacts and reduces the ability for women to access education and economic opportunities which perpetuates inequalities.

Prioritising WASH allows women to focus on accessing the economic and educational opportunities they deserve.

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all

Agriculture makes up nearly 70% of freshwater withdrawals, making water access essential for the quarter of the global workforce who rely on agriculture for their income. 263 million people spend more than 30 minutes collecting water, this wasted time could have been spent participating in income generating actives.

Prioritising WASH allows for resilient agricultural practices and increased time for income generating activities, relieving farmers from food insecurity and a key tool to reduce poverty.

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

WASH access disproportionately affects the most marginalised communities. Those living in poverty, with disabilities, in rural or slum areas are less likely to have access to WASH services. This exacerbates the inequalities that already exist in societies, and create a cycle of poverty.

Prioritising access to WASH for all, especially the most marginalised would ensure that we are truly leaving no one behind.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

By 2050 70% of the world’s population will be based in urban centres. With slums and peri urban areas expanding, it is essential to ensure that WASH services are prioritised, especially faecal sludge management.

Prioritising urban WASH will allow cities to grow healthier, cleaner and become more sustainable.

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Climate change will continue to increase the chances of extreme weather events and water insecurity. As water resources are becoming increasingly fragile it is likely to impact the most marginalised communities, who are often living in rural areas, and living in extreme poverty.

Prioritising WASH resilience will mean that communities can adapt to climate change and reduces the need for people to turn to unsafe water supplies.

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Globally, over 80%of all wastewater is discharged directly into the environment without treatment, polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. This pollution affects water sources and in the long term disrupts ecosystems.  The wildlife that inhabits these areas are not only harmed, but it is in turn harmful to the people in surrounding communities. This environmental damage costs billions of dollars, affecting sustainability and the economy on a global scale.

Prioritising WASH services, specifically faecal sludge management will reduce the amount of untreated waste dumped into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

By 2030, the population is expected to be 8.5 billion. Already 844 million people are living without access to basic water supplies, making it more important than ever that the earth’s resources are effectively managed. With current population growth and water management practices, the world will face a 40% shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030. Good management of water resources, transboundary co-operation and participation of local communities is vital as resources are depleted and the potential for conflict over resources increases.

Prioritising WASH management will reduce water insecurity and conflict and promote peace.

Goal 6 is a key enabler to achieve the entire Sustainable Development agenda. Lack of access to WASH services undermines human rights, exasperates poverty and will continue to leave the most marginalised communities behind.


Lucy Morrell works on WASHwatch and is based at WaterAid UK. An extended version of this blog is available on the SDG hub.