Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation


Water is essential to life as we know it. However, almost 2.2 billion people currently live without safe water. 785 million people do not have access to basic water services, and 144 million of them drink untreated surface water. The consequences of drinking unsafe water can range from an upset stomach to cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental problems. To address the world’s issues with water and sanitation access, the United Nations has created Sustainable Development Goal 6, or SDG 6.

The Goal 

SDG 6 aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. 

Targets and Indicators 

SDG 6 has eight targets, or smaller goals that need to be met on the way to achieving SDG 6. Target 6.1 is to create universal, equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. Target 6.2 aims to end open defecation by the same year, with an emphasis on the needs of vulnerable women and girls. There are several indicators that can track our progress on this goal. One example is the proportion of people using safely managed drinking and sanitation services. 

What’s Already Being Done

Though progress has been made towards ensuring universal access to basic sanitation, the current rate of progress would need to double to make this happen by 2030. Of the countries with under 95% coverage of access to basic sanitation, only one-fifth are set to reach universal, basic water services by 2030. UNESCO also reports that we need substantially increased public and private investment in water, sanitation, and hygiene to make Target 6.2 a reality. 

Nevertheless, many activists are fighting for access to safe water and sanitation in vulnerable communities. Youth activist Mari Copeny has been fighting to ensure safe water in her community, Flint, Michigan. Flint is a predominantly Black city, and its river has a long history with unofficial waste disposal. In 2013, an emergency manager tried cutting costs by switching the city’s water source to the Flint River instead of treated water from Detroit. A Virginia Tech study found unsafe levels of lead in samples from 252 homes. Though Mari Copeny was just eight years old at the time, she wrote to President Obama and convinced him to personally see Flint’s crisis. This was a major success, but Flint’s problems are far from over, and Copeny continues using her platform to advocate for her city and others without access to clean water.

Applying It: How Everyone Can Help

Though governments and big organizations need to act to meet SDG 6, you can help. You can reduce water pollution through household practices. Never flush trash down the toilet, start composting, and only run the dishwasher or washing machine with full loads. You can also stay updated on the latest progress on SDG 6 and spread awareness. Lastly, use your voice to advocate for populations least likely to have safe access to water. Through these small steps, you can help make SDG 6 a reality!

Think Further

  1. What is one thing you can personally do to help the world meet SDG 6?
  2. As you learned in the video, women and people of color are less likely to have access to clean water. Can you name some other populations who might not have access to clean water?
  3. In Flint Michigan, an unelected official made a decision that had horrible consequences for the city’s citizens. Do you think changing voting policies can help in situations like these? Why or why not?


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Learn More

  1. Denchak, Melissa. “Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, May 1, 2020.
  2. “Goal 6 .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” United Nations. United Nations. Accessed May 25, 2020.
  3. “Ten Things You Can Do To Reduce Water Pollution.” Simsbury CT. Accessed May 25, 2020.
  4. “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World – United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations. United Nations. Accessed May 25, 2020.