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Water and the SDGs

Water and the SDGs

Why water is fundamental to all the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 interconnected objectives established by the United Nations to guide global efforts towards sustainable development. They encompass various targets such as eradicating poverty, promoting gender equality, ensuring clean energy, fostering quality education and more. These goals aim to address social, economic, and environmental challenges to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

It won't surprise you to learn that we are focused on Goal 6 (access to clean water), but we believe water is fundamental to the success of many of the other goals.

Let us convince you

We all agree that access to clean and safe water is essential, a basic human right, and must be in place before other development initiatives.

Beyond our basic survival, clean water is vital for sanitation, hygiene and disease prevention. History has shown how clean water can reduce child mortality rates and improve overall health.

Water is also necessary for agriculture, ensuring food production and food security. Moreover, water plays a critical role in supporting ecosystems, biodiversity and mitigating the impacts of climate change. By addressing water-related challenges, such as water scarcity, pollution and inadequate infrastructure, we can lay a strong foundation for sustainable development and the achievement of all other SDGs.

Clean water must first be in place if we are going to reach the following SDGs.

It all starts with clean water

Goal 1: No Poverty

As has already been outlined, access to clean water is vital for poverty eradication as it directly impacts people's health, productivity and income-generation opportunities.

For example, water plays an important role in food production. Clean water also enables better hygiene, reduces the incidence of waterborne diseases and improves overall well-being, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty. If fewer children get sick from dirty water, experts believe there will be a sharp rise in the number of children attending school.

Female welder, trained by WaterAid, to repair part of a water system. Clean water creates jobs | WaterAid. Photo credit: WaterAid/GIZ/Mu Kreativz

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

Agriculture depends on water for irrigation, and adequate access to clean water ensures sufficient food production and promotes food security. Without clean water, crops may fail, leading to food shortages and malnutrition.

Once clean water systems are in place, communities can plant vegetables that can augment existing food sources for the family or be sold within the community.

During project work in Colombia, we worked with another non-profit, Action Against Hunger. Before our project was complete, Action Against Hunger had not been able to support the community in question by providing farming equipment and livestock, such as chicken and goats, because there was no water infrastructure to water the crops or feed the animals. However, once our project was complete, Action Against Hunger could then work with the community equipping people with different farming options, to start businesses and feed their own families.

Our initial work paved the way for further development in the region. From basic farming equipment to encouraging small businesses, when water is in place a community has more economic resilience and independence and can lift itself out of poverty.

Water touches everything and everyone on the planet. And without water, there's no food. There's no security.
Kelly Parsons, CEO, WaterAid America

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Clean water and sanitation are essential for preventing waterborne diseases which are major health risks in many parts of the world. Access to clean water supports overall health, reduces child mortality and improves the quality of life.

When people lack clean water, it often leads to the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid. These illnesses result in increased healthcare costs, reduced productivity and higher mortality rates. Sick individuals are unable to work efficiently or consistently, leading to absenteeism and less economic activity within the community. When children fall ill, they miss school and therefore are unable to fulfill their potential. This keeps generations stuck in a grim cycle of ill health and poverty. Clean water infrastructure (including sanitation and hygiene facilities) can make a material impact on a community's health, productivity at work and ability to earn money and attend school.

In terms of healthcare, waterborne diseases place a heavy burden on the healthcare system of a developing country. Treating these diseases requires medical facilities, personnel, medication and resources that could be allocated to other areas of healthcare. To compound the problem, many healthcare centers also function without reliable, clean water, meaning more illness and slower recovery times for patients.

Goal 4: Quality Education

Access to clean water and sanitation facilities in schools is crucial for providing a healthy and conducive learning environment. It reduces absenteeism due to illness and supports children's education by promoting better hygiene practices.

Women and children are usually responsible for water collection in their households. The first job of the morning is always to fetch clean water. This often involves a long trip there and back, as well as long lines at the water source. The average walk for water is 3.1 miles. This all takes up time when the children are meant to be in school. This affects girls in particular and can often lead to girls and their families feeling that it is not worthwhile to remain in school, because their grades have suffered due to their absences.

Watch our interactive video, The Girl Who Turned to Water

Screenshot from the WaterAid interactive film, The Girl Who Turned to Water

Goal 5: Gender Equality

As we have just mentioned, women and girls are often responsible for collecting water in many communities. The availability of clean water nearby ensures that they have more time for education, economic activities and empowerment, rather than spending long hours fetching water from distant sources.

In our water projects, we work hard to include the women of the community at every step, to ensure that their voices are heard when it comes to their needs. Once the water project is built, we then train members of the community in maintaining the services and/or how to promote hygiene best practices within a community. This gives women economic opportunities that otherwise would not have been available. Alongside the fact that clean water allows businesses to flourish, from farming to local restaurants to soap-making. Clean water unlocks it all.

Read Women take the lead, our issue of The Ripple Effect that is dedicated to the theme of women and water.

Screenshot of The Ripple Effect issue titled 'Women take the lead'

Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation

Clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) are a fundamental requirement for basic human needs, health and hygiene. Without reliable access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities, individuals, particularly in developing regions, are more susceptible to waterborne diseases, malnutrition, economic instability and much more. Reliable access to clean, running water is a pre-requisite and must be in place before any other development initiatives because water underpins so many of them.

See how clean water transforms lives.

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

We have researched the positive impact clean water access and water stewardship can have on a businesses' bottom line. From increasing productivity, to reducing absenteeism to improving employee and community morale. Read Boosting Business, our groundbreaking study on the positive impact of clean water.

Two female members of the Water Club who maintain their pond-sand filtration water system in Bangladesh | WaterAid. Photo Credit: Drik/Farzana Hoseen

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

People dealing with issues of accessibility or inclusivity are particularly vulnerable when it comes to sourcing clean water. Whether due to a physical impairment that makes it impossible to collect water or a social vulnerability, we work to address this in the planning part of our projects. If marginalized groups are included, community-level uptake increases, meaning that the clean water systems are serving everyone.

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

This goal is something corporations can impact directly, from the production line through to the supply chain. Water is required throughout the production and supply chain of many goods and services. Efficient water use and wastewater management contribute to sustainable consumption and production patterns, minimizing resource depletion and pollution.

Goal 13: Climate action

Water stewardship is a key part of any serious climate initiative. Water availability and management are essential for climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts and have become key components of the water strategies for many of our corporate partners. (See the PepsiCo Foundation's work)

It supports ecosystem resilience, reduces vulnerabilities to water-related disasters and helps address the impacts of climate change on water resources.

Most climate events are felt through water, whether too much or too little. This is why we also factor in our changing climate when we build our water projects. From elevated toilets to smart-meter rain gauges: community-level water stewardship is key for rationing and proper usage.

It all begins with clean water

Clean water is foundational for achieving almost of all of the SDGs as it impacts various aspects of human life, health, and development. Addressing water-related challenges and ensuring universal access to clean water and sanitation lays the groundwork for progress across all the Sustainable Development Goals.