Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

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. The 2030 Agenda recognizes the centrality of water resources to sustainable development, and the vital role that improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene play in progress in other areas, including health, education and poverty reduction.

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of the water cycle means taking into account the level of “water stress”, calculated as the ratio of total fresh water withdrawn by all major sectors to the total renewable freshwater resources in a particular country or region.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.

Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources, around 2012 (percentage)

Over 90 per cent of people worldwide use improved drinking water sources, but not all sources are safely managed

In 2015, 6.6 billion people, or 91 per cent of the global population, used an improved drinking water source compared to 82 per cent in 2000. An estimated 663 million people in 2015 were still using unimproved sources or surface water. While coverage was around 90 per cent or more in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, widespread inequalities persist within and among countries. Moreover, not all improved water sources are safely managed. In 2012, for example, it was estimated that at least 1.8 billion people were exposed to drinking water contaminated with faecal matter.

Proportion of population using improved drinking water sources, 2000 and 2015 (percentage)

Inadequate sanitation facilities are still a reality for one third of the global population

Between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using improved sanitation increased from 59 per cent to 68 per cent. This means that 4.9 billion people globally were using an improved sanitation facility in 2015. However, 2.4 billion did not; among them were 946 million people without any facilities at all, who continued to practise open defecation. The unsafe management of faecal waste and wastewater continues to pose a major risk to public health and the environment.

Proportion of population using improved sanitation facilities, 2000 and 2015 (percentage)

Plans for the integrated management of water resources are under way in countries in every region, with varying progress on implementation

A key aspect of sustainable water management is the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), a follow-up to the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. In 2012, 65 per cent of the 130 countries that responded to an IWRM survey question reported that management plans were in place at the national level, though full implementation varies across regions.

Proportion of countries in various stages of implementing national integrated water resources management plans or equivalent, 2012 (percentage)