a) Provide universal access to safe drinking water at home and in schools, health centres and refugee camps
b) End open defecation and ensure universal access to sanitation at school and work, and increase access to sanitation at home by x%
c) Bring freshwater withdrawals in line with supply and increase water efficiency in agriculture by x%, industry by y% and urban areas by z%
d) Recycle or treat all municipal and industrial wastewater prior to discharge
Access to water is a basic human right. Safe drinking water is something everyone in the world needs. Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to basic drinking water, but 780 million people still remain without. Around two billion people lack access to continuous, safe water. Improving access – as well as quality – is becoming more urgent as the world faces increasing water scarcity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in places classified as water scarce. People living in poverty are likely to be most at risk.
Even those who currently have access to basic drinking water do not have a guarantee of continued access. Agriculture draws 70 per cent of all freshwater for irrigation and may need even more as the demand for intensive food production rises. Already, rising demand from farms is causing water tables to fall in some areas and, at the same time, industry and energy are demanding more water as economies grow.
Better water resource management can ensure there will be enough water to meet competing demands. Distribution of water among industry, energy, agriculture, cities and households should be managed fairly and efficiently, with attention to protecting the quality of drinking water. To accomplish this, we need to establish good management practices, responsible regulation and proper pricing.
The MDG targets have focused on improving the sources of water collection and reducing the amount of time it takes, especially for women, to collect water for basic family needs. We must now act to ensure universal access to safe drinking water at home, and in schools, health centres and refugee camps. This is a global minimum standard that should be applied to everyone—regardless of income quintile, gender, location, age or other grouping.
Investing in safe drinking water complements investments in sanitation and hygiene. Water, sanitation and hygiene work together to make people healthier, and to reduce the grief, and time and money spent, when family members fall ill and need to be cared for. There is some evidence that private and adequate sanitation in schools allows menstruating girls to continue to attend school and learn, and reduces the likelihood that any child will get sick and have to leave school. Agriculture and tourism also benefit when the physical environment is cleaner and more hygienic. On average, the benefits of investing in water management, sanitation, and hygiene range from $2 to $3 per dollar invested.
The MDG target on increasing access to sanitation is the one we are farthest from reaching. Around 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open and another 1.4 billion have no toilets, septic tanks, piped sewer systems or other means of improved sanitation. Such poor sanitation contributes to widespread chronic diarrhea in many lower-income areas. Each year, 760,000 children under 5 die because of diarrhea. Those who survive diarrhea often don’t absorb enough essential nutrients, hindering their physical and mental development.
Building sanitation infrastructure and public services that work for everyone, including those living in poverty, and keeping human waste out of the environment, is a major challenge. Billions of people in cities capture and store waste, but have nowhere to dispose of it once their latrines or septic tanks fill. Innovations in toilet design, emptying pits, treating sludge and reusing waste can help local governments meet the enormous challenge of providing quality public sanitation services – particularly in densely populated urban areas.
While we aspire to a global goal to have sanitation in the home for everyone by 2030, we do not believe this would be attainable. So our target is more modest, but we hope still achievable.
As cities grow and people consume more, solid waste management is a growing problem. Wastewater pollutes not only the natural environment, but also the immediate living environment, and has an enormous detrimental impact on the spread of disease. Establishing or strengthening policies – at national, subnational and local levels – to recycle or treat wastewater collection, treatment and discharge can protect people from contaminants and natural ecosystems from harmful pollution.