The policy brief highlights the synergies between water and sanitation, human health, and environmental quality, and argues that environmental degradation and climate change make the goal of providing safe drinking water and sanitation harder to reach.
It calls for a human rights-based approach where access to services would be “monitored through the experiences of women and minorities”.
The brief calls for concerted efforts in the areas of biodiversity, climate change, land use, chemicals and waste, and disaster risk reduction to help achieve water and sanitation for all.
Fifty years after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which put “health and sanitation” on the international agenda, ensuring water and sanitation for all “remains one of the world’s biggest challenges.” A ‘Still Only One Earth’ policy brief from IISD argues that for universal access to become a reality, “governments and private-sector service providers should adopt a human rights-based approach to ensure water and sanitation services are safe, available, accessible, affordable, and culturally acceptable.”
Author Delia Paul notes that 673 million people in the world today do not have a toilet in their homes. More than half the world’s population use sanitation services that release untreated human waste into the environment, contaminating water sources, and 698 million school-age children do not have basic sanitation services at school. Moreover, three of every ten people still lack access to safe drinking water, resulting in 700 deaths per day among children under five from diarrheal disease – outcomes that could be prevented if everyone had access to safe drinking water, sanitation services, and good hygiene.
The policy brief traces the development of international water governance from the 1972 Stockholm Conference until today. While the water and sanitation agenda received a boost when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000, it argues that the MDGs set the bar “too low.” In 2010, UN agencies reported early achievement of MDG target 7C on halving the proportion of the world’s population lacking sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. However, the brief explains, indicators on “access to an improved water source” and on “access to an improved sanitation facility” lacked important quality and safety criteria.
The holistic approach adopted by the SDGs, including SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), represents a higher level of ambition. The policy brief highlights the synergies between water and sanitation, human health, and environmental quality, and argues that environmental degradation and climate change make the goal of providing safe drinking water and sanitation harder to reach. The brief warns that “at the current rate of progress, by 2030 there will still be 1.6 billion people in the world without access to safe drinking water at home.”
The brief urges focus on the poorest, including women and girls, who are more likely to be left behind in efforts to provide universal access to water and sanitation. It calls for a human rights-based approach where access to services would be “monitored through the experiences of women and minorities.”
Despite efforts by more than 30 UN organizations that conduct water and sanitation programmes, the policy brief warns that to meet the SDGs’ 2030 deadline, progress on some of the targets would need to be about four times faster. “[M]eetings and targets on water will not be enough,” it stresses, calling for concerted efforts in the areas of biodiversity, climate change, land use, chemicals and waste, and disaster risk reduction (DRR) to help achieve water and sanitation for all.
The ‘Still Only One Earth’ series is being published by IISD in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm+50). The briefs assess successes and shortcomings of five decades of global environmental policy. [Publication: The Water and Sanitation Challenge] [Still Only One Earth Policy Brief Series]