May 08th 2024

SDG: Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation

SDG: Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation for all is an integral part of the world we want to live in, and indeed there is enough fresh water on our planet to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, however, millions of people die every year from diseases related to inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene, mainly due to poor water management or lack of infrastructure.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation pose a significant threat to the food security, livelihoods and educational opportunities of poor families around the world. More than two billion people currently live with the risk of limited access to freshwater resources, and by 2050 at least one in four could live in a country affected by chronic or recurrent freshwater shortages. Droughts particularly affect some of the world’s poorest countries and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.

Despite these challenges, significant progress has been made over the last decade in terms of drinking water sources and sanitation. Today, over 90 percent of the world’s population has access to improved drinking water sources. This is an important step forward, but much remains to be done to further improve sanitation and access to drinking water.

To achieve this, increased investment is needed in the management of freshwater ecosystems and sanitation facilities at the local level, particularly in several developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. Through these investments, we can ensure that the most vulnerable communities have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, which in turn improves their health, food security, livelihoods and opens up educational opportunities.

What has changed and where are we now?

Despite the recognition of access to adequate water and sanitation as human rights by the UN General Assembly in 2010 and their enshrinement as separate human rights in 2015, there remains a significant gap between the idealization of these rights and the reality.

Billions of people worldwide still do not have access to clean drinking water, sanitation and adequate hygiene. While supply has improved in some rural areas, it has stagnated or even declined in urban regions.

Water scarcity is a growing problem, exacerbated by conflict and climate change, particularly in regions such as West Asia and North Africa, which are increasingly suffering from water stress. Rising water pollution is another challenge that threatens both human health and the environment.

To achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, the pace of progress in drinking water supply would need to increase six-fold, sanitation five-fold and hygiene eight-fold. This will require significant investment in infrastructure and measures to adapt to the effects of climate change. It is crucial that governments, international organizations and civil society work together to address these challenges and ensure that everyone has access to clean water and adequate sanitation.

The top 10 countries with the most polluted water
The quality of drinking water is of global concern as it endangers health and is a risk factor for infections. According to the UN, 3.1% of the world’s population, or 2.2 million people, die every year due to the consumption of contaminated water. Especially in countries with contaminated water, the lack of health infrastructure is a major problem.

The UNESCO water quality ranking of 122 countries shows that some countries have particularly challenging conditions:

1. Belgium: although Belgium generally offers a good quality of life, it suffers from heavily contaminated groundwater due to industrial waste and inadequate purification measures.

2. Morocco: Due to its high demand for water and its scarcity, the cost of clean water is high, which is a challenge for this country.

3. India: More than 700 million people in India do not have adequate access to health services, mainly due to water scarcity. Every year, around 2.1 million children under the age of five die due to water-related diseases.

4 Jordan: Part of the Middle East, Jordan suffers from water scarcity and inadequate water purification, resulting in low availability and poor quality.

5. Sudan: This African country is affected by internal conflict, water shortages and inadequate water purification.

The list goes on, with countries such as Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Rwanda also facing water quality challenges.

Mexico ranks 106th out of 122 countries in terms of water quality and suffers thousands of deaths per year due to the consumption of contaminated water, especially among children.

Finland tops the list of countries with the best water quality, followed by Canada and New Zealand. To tackle the problem of water pollution, prevention, water purification and ecosystem restoration are identified as fundamental solutions.

Are the UN sustainability goals still achievable?

Imme Scholz warns of a bleak prognosis, particularly in relation to food, malaria and the imprisonment of people without trial. She also emphasizes the persistent overfishing in the fishing industry. Scholz is pessimistic and believes that the targets for overcoming extreme poverty and achieving most of the goals by 2030 will not be met.

The United Nations confirms this gloomy outlook and predicts that without drastic changes, 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty and more than 600 million will go hungry by 2030.

How is Germany trying to implement the SDGs?

Germany has committed to implementing the 17 global UN Sustainable Development Goals at home and helping other countries to implement them, based on the German Sustainable Development Strategy. The Federal Statistical Office regularly publishes indicator reports that track the development of sustainability indicators in Germany.

The latest indicator report from the Federal Statistical Office highlights problems in various areas. One example is distributive justice, particularly with regard to income and wealth distribution. The aim is for inequality in Germany to be below the level of inequality in the European Union by 2030, as measured by the Gini coefficient. For 2021, however, the report shows that inequality in income distribution in Germany was only slightly lower than in the EU. Nevertheless, the Gini coefficient was also higher than the corresponding EU value this year, which means that the German government’s target was not achieved.

Another problem relates to the education sector, in particular the target of reducing the proportion of people without school and vocational qualifications to 9.5 percent by 2030. According to the report by the Federal Statistical Office, this proportion was 11.6% in 2021, which corresponds to 698,000 young people without an upper secondary level qualification who are not in education or training. Although the figure had fallen to 9.5% in 2014 and had therefore already reached the target for 2030, the indicator has since moved in the opposite direction again.

Is it still possible to achieve these targets?

Many experts agree that greater efforts are needed to achieve the sustainability targets by 2030. However, opinions differ as to whether meeting these targets is still realistic at all. Sociologist Imme Scholz is pessimistic and believes that most of the goals cannot be achieved.

The overview of the 17 goals can be read here

Overview of the 17 goals


You can find information from the United Nations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) here:

Information from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development can be found here:

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