Without water & toilets the Sustainable Development Goals will fail

July 11, 2019
WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga

Much to gain and lose by decisions being made in New York

The world’s ambition of reducing inequality across all aspects of life through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is at risk of being over 100 years behind schedule.

As Governments meet at the United Nations in New York this week to reaffirm their support for the eradication poverty and inequality by 2030.

Representatives from WaterAid across four continents are in New York and calling on leaders to prioritise the poorest and most marginalised people in order to close the vast gaps in access to water and sanitation around the world. People living in poverty are both more likely not to have taps and toilets but also are kept in poverty by not having access to these basic-essentials.

It is still possible to meet the ambitions of the SDGs, but only with an immediate step change in global priorities.

Access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene (WASH) underpins nearly all of the 17 SDGs. Without access to these basic human rights, the entire development agenda, stretching across health, nutrition, education and equality, suffers.

The slow progress being made towards achieving the SDGs will be the central point of the opening session today at the UN. The world is currently off track to meet most of the goals and it is vulnerable people who will suffer the most.

At current rates of progress, everyone in the least developed countries will not have access to a safely managed water supply until 2131 – over 100 years behind schedule. This average masks the fact that in some countries little or no progress is being made. The situation for sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa is even worse - it will take until 2403 for everyone in these countries to have access to a safely managed toilet, nearly 400 years behind schedule.

In some countries, the gap between the poorest and the richest peoples’ access to water and sanitation is growing. It is the poorest and most marginalised people who have the most to gain from accessing good water, sanitation and hygiene services and breaking free of poverty.   

Government ministers, country delegates and UN officials must target the furthest behind first and recognise the fundamental importance of water, sanitation and hygiene to almost every area of development. Eradicating poverty is impossible until everyone, everywhere has access to good WASH.

A key focus of the UN’s meeting this week is SDG4 - to provide an inclusive and equitable quality education for all. However, 620 million of the world’s school children, twice the population of the USA, do not have reliable and safe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at school. A lack of these facilities can have a devastating impact on a child’s learning, especially for girls who spend their days limiting what they eat and drink so that they don’t have to use unsafe sanitation facilities. Without clean water and decent toilets in every school in the country, Sierra Leone’s vision for education will never be realised.

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid’s Chief Executive who attended the HLPF this week said:

“The SDGs are ambitious but achievable goals that will fail if we don’t urgently increase the rate of progress. Time is not on our side. The inescapable truth is that it is those who are already disadvantaged in society who are often the most likely to be affected by lack of access to WASH. If someone does not have reliable access to these services, they are likely to be poorer, in worse health, with lower educational attainment and with poorer future prospects".


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organization works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/ca, follow @wateraidcanada or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid Canada on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraidcanada

844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.[1]

2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]

Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]

Every $1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of $4 in increased productivity.[4]

Just $15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database www.WASHwatch.org 

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] www.washwatch.org

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org


For more information, please contact:

In Ottawa: Aneesha Hampton, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +1 (613) 230-5182.