WASH the world: Water and Sanitation

By Kelsi Wilsher and Joris Voorhoeve


Water determines the existence of humans, animals and plants. Humans cannot survive more than 3 days without drinking water.

Clean water and sanitation for all are Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6. Yet of the 7.4 billion people in today’s world, 4.2 billion still live without safely managed sanitation’ [1] and two out of five people worldwide have no basic handwashing facilities at home [2].

The SDGs which are basic human needs, as defined by the member states of the United Nations and promised to everybody by the year 2030, cannot be achieved as long as there is a clear lack of reliable healthy water and water for sanitation [2]. Achievement of this SDG is essential to decrease poverty, famine, suppression of girls and women, and to make progress in the fight against preventable diseases. Investing in making more water available to mankind improves lives and economies: every US$1 invested in improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) ‘yields a US$5 return’ [3].

Besides universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation other targets in this SDG 6 are: reducing pollution and chemicals in water, protection of ‘water-related ecosystems,’ and ending open defecation [2]. Open defecation is still practised by 673 million people. Initiatives like World toilet day on November 19th help more people become aware of this target, and how diseases are spread through open defecation [4].

All the targets under this SDG need to be better understood by the world and some ways to expand knowledge are through blogs, publications, and events at local, regional and global levels.

Financial resources are of course needed to achieve this goal. The study ‘The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene’ [5] estimates the total global costs. It focuses on providing all with healthy drinking water including equal access to it, and an end to open defecation. 140 countries, consisting of low and middle-income countries, and some high-income countries with some basic but not complete WASH service, are the subject of an authoritative study by the World Bank. Estimates were made for the cost of basic WASH services (a safer community water source at a maximum of 15 minutes away, an improved toilet for sanitation, and a place for each household to wash their hands with soap and water), in addition to estimates for the cost of more advanced levels of WASH (safely managed water in every household and a toilet).

Three main findings are highlighted. Firstly, there is enough financing available to afford the upfront costs of providing basic WASH service by 2030 for everyone. An estimate of an annual $28.4 billion (with a minimum range of $13.8 billion and a maximum of $46.7 billion) has been given to provide WASH services to those without. The second key finding shows that an estimated $114 billion a year (again with a range: $74 to $166 billion) will ensure that targets 6.1 and 6.2 of SDG 6 are met. Around three times the current capital investments level is needed if safely managed services (higher WASH levels) are put into place. The World Bank suggests that ‘SDGs 6.1 and 6.2 alone are expected to cost $1.7 trillion globally by 2030’ [6]. Furthermore, operations and maintenance costs could see an estimated total cost of $200 billion by 2030 to provide and maintain WASH [6].

Although having safe-drinking water and sanitation are human rights [3] the rich countries are the lucky ones amongst the billions of people who do not. A shortage of fresh water is often not the main problem. There is increasing water pollution [1] and ‘increasing rainfall variability’ [3]. These combined ‘make water one of the greatest risks to economic progress, poverty eradication and sustainable development’ [3]. Good governance, international cooperation, smart finances and better data monitoring will kickstart faster progress [4].

The WASH Poverty Diagnostic Initiative [7] suggests various ways to guarantee universal access to safe, sustainable water and sanitation. Much of the good that WASH does mainly benefits the urban water sector. Rural populations should not be left out; there needs to be better allocation of resources. But political stability and electoral reasons make many leaders focus mostly on the urban masses.

To guarantee that every human being gets enough water of good quality, many measures are needed. Fair taxes on individuals and businesses [8]; fair water pricing, avoiding domination by monopolistic water companies, large investments in new water purification, particularly desalination, and worldwide exchange of new purification and sanitation technologies.



[1] UN (2019) Eight things you need to know about the sanitation crisis. [ONLINE] Available at : https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/10/eight-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-sanitation-crisis/  [Accessed 6 Dec 2019]

[2] UN (no date) Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/ [Accessed 6 Dec 2019]

[3] UN, Water (2018) Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report on Water and Sanitation. Published by the United Nations New York, New York10017. [ONLINE] Available at : https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19901SDG6_SR2018_web_3.pdf   [Accessed 08 May 2020]

[4] UN, Water (2019) 19 November World Toilet Day. 2019 Leaving no one behind. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.worldtoiletday.info/ [Accessed 17 Dec 2019]

[5] Hutton, G. and Varughese, M., (2016) A summary of the 2016 study ‘The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene’. The World Bank, pp 1- 43.   https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/23681/K8543.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[6] World Bank (2019) The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the World Bank Group: Closing the SDGs Financing Gap.  [ONLINE] Available at: http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/259801562965232326/2030Agenda-2019-final-web.pdf  [Accessed 17 Dec 2019]

[7] The World Bank (2019) Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic Initiative. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water/publication/wash-poverty-diagnostic  [Accessed 10 Dec 2019]

[8] UN Water (no date) Financing Water and Sanitation. [ONLINE] Available at:  https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/financing/ [Accessed 08 May 2020