Water for All Means Leaving No One Behind

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‘Leaving no one behind,’ the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, gives all of us a crystal clear message: everyone must participate in, and benefit from, the progress of development.

In the realm of water, this means achieving SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), which has as its first target universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.

‘Water for all,’ of course, means leaving no one behind. An obvious statement perhaps, but one that needs to be made because, however much progress we have seen in recent decades, we are still failing to reach around 2.1 billion people with safe water.

What’s more, The Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation shows that we are already off-track to meet SDG 6. Demand for water is rising, pollution is worsening, funding is lacking, and governance is often too weak to manage this precious resource efficiently and effectively.

Business-as-usual (BAU), then, is not an option. As the 2030 Agenda commits us “to reach the furthest behind first,” we must ask ourselves who, among the 2.1 billion people currently unserved with safe water, are the most marginalized groups and how can we reach them?

This is the focus of World Water Day (22 March 2019) and the UN World Water Development Report which together shine a light on those people who currently do not enjoy the human rights to safe water and sanitation.

They are often overlooked in policies and programmes, and many of the barriers they face are rooted in deeply entrenched discrimination and marginalization.

Climate change, in combination with political turmoil, is only likely to make this situation worse. It is estimated that 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. Failing to ensure such large numbers of people enjoy their human right to water can only make the world more unstable.

Furthermore, investing in water supply and sanitation makes good economic sense. The return on investment is high in general and for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in particular, especially when broader macroeconomic benefits are taken into account. The multiplier for the return on every dollar invested has been globally estimated to be 2 for water supply and 5.5 for sanitation.

The success we have seen in expanding water services in recent decades shows that this is possible. Solutions are being found for the technical challenges we face. What we need is greater political will and resources to make this happen.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, water is your human right. We urgently need to take action to make universal access to safe water a reality. This is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Let us move forward, leaving no one behind.

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This article was written by: Murray Burt, Head of Global WASH Unit, UNHCR; Rio Hada, Team Leader, Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, OHCHR; and Stefan Uhlenbrook, Coordinator, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme.

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