The stuff of life

  • SDG 6
  • It is critical to address water pollution issues to achieve national health goals

Jun 6, 2017-

Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. But due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition.

Critical water resources

Globally, by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. There was progress during the MDGs, whereby 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still left out. At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated. Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved drinking water source has increased from 76 percent to 91 percent, but water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and it is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds the recharge rate.

As many as 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets. More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or seas without any pollution removal. Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases.

Water is critical for economic activities. Both manufacturing and agriculture require water directly or indirectly. Hydropower is the most important and widely-used renewable source of energy and as of 2011, represented 16 percent of total electricity production worldwide. Approximately 70 percent of all water abstracted from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used for irrigation. Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters.

Overcoming challenges

Nepal belongs to the category of least developed countries, but is said to be the second richest in water resources. However, till date, Nepali people are struggling for drinking water both in rural and urban settings. Poor sanitation and hygiene are giving rise to many epidemics that kill people. The sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) is relevant to Nepal for several reasons. First, it is important to have access to safe drinking water: In rural areas of Nepal, people spend hours fetching drinking water. We hear of many epidemics like cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea caused by contaminated water in the rural areas of Nepal. In urban settings too, people are spending lots of money to purchase water and many epidemics have become viral. So SDG 6 is important to Nepal to achieve national health goals.

Unmanaged urbanisation, industrialisation, unplanned housing and overpopulation are causes of increasing pollution in Nepal. Poor drainage systems and improper dumping sites are creating many health hazards. In the urban areas, poor drainage, air pollution and poor solid waste disposal are major hindrances to maintaining

sanitary measures. On the other hand, open defecation is a cause of poor sanitation and hygiene in some areas.

There are several key issues and challenges that Nepal has to overcome to meet SDG 6. The first is the lack of implementation. In Nepal, many plans and policies are discussed and developed, but they have not been implemented. Next, there is a lack of a monitoring mechanism. Even when developmental plans are implemented, they are not monitored. For example, the contracts for supplying or constructing drainage are given to certain firms or contractors, but the authorised body does not monitor the projects and ensure timely delivery of the service. Political instability is another challenge. With frequent changes in government, developmental plans are altered and there is a break in continuity. Lack of awareness and campaigning is another major issue.

The achievement of SDG 6 can directly affect the achievement many other SDGs. As mentioned above, SDG 6 has a direct impact on the health of the community. If there is a proper water supply, the time spent (mostly by women in the family) fetching water can be spent on more productive activities. If SDG 6 is well implemented, water pollution-related issues will also be mitigated.


- Kattel and Ghimire are Nepali actors better known by their TV serial names Dhurmus and Suntali; this article is part of a weekly series on SDGs

Published: 06-06-2017 09:03

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