Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Water the Silent Weapon that is brewing War

“Weaponization of water” i.e., the use of water – from its natural sources, usually not designated to anyone in particular – as a means of intimidating or harming others. This isn’t only restricted to water but also includes the relationship between other resources, such as petroleum, and the viability of water. For instance, resources like rivers can be used as currency or for starving out segments of populations.

BBC Future: Water crises have been ranked in the top five of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks by Impact list nearly every year since 2012. Over the course of the 20th Century, global water use grew at more than twice the rate of population increase. Unprecedented levels of dam building and water extraction by nations on great rivers are leaving countries further downstream increasingly thirsty, increasing the risk of conflicts.

INSTITUTE H21: PaulCollier, an expert on the economics of civil war estimated that close to fifty armed conflicts at the turn of the 21st century had a strong link to water and other resource exploitation, in which either licit or illicit exploitation helped to trigger, intensify or sustain violence. The Syria and Iraq region has seen some of the earliest recorded, if not the most frequent, history of water’s use as a weapon. The territory of Syria and Iraq constitute part of the ancient Kingdom of Mesopotamia. The earliest recorded conflict over water in this region was over 4500 years ago when a dispute over access to irrigation water led King Urlama of the city-state of Lagash to cut off the water supply of the neighboring city of Umma.

Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia all depend on inflow from the Blue Nile and have long exchanged political blows over the upstream Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project – a dam built at $5bn (£3.6bn), and three times the size of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana.

The latest research show water-related violence increasing over time. Population growth and economic development are driving increasing water demand worldwide. Meanwhile, climate change is decreasing water supply and/or making rainfall increasingly erratic in many places.

Charles Iceland, global director for water at the World Resources Institute.

The 1993 Oslo Agreements gave control over basic water resources to the Israelis. The role of the Palestinian side was limited to serving it. The agreements laid down the right of the Israelis to the water of the River Jordan. It also laid down their rights to veto any future talks regarding it. As the Israelis completely control Palestinian water resources, future conflict in the region will be over water resources.

Abur-Rahman Al-Tamimi, Director of the Association of Palestinian Hydrologists 2013

United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development

While substantial progress has been made in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people—mostly in rural areas—still lack these basic services. Worldwide, one in three people does not have access to safe drinking water. Two out of five people do not have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water. More than 673 million people still practice open defecation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of sanitation, hygiene, and adequate access to clean water for preventing and containing diseases. Hand hygiene saves lives. According to the World Health Organization, handwashing is one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infections, including the COVID-19 virus. Yet billions of people still lack safe water sanitation, and funding is inadequate.

COVID-19 response

Availability and access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services are fundamental to fighting the virus and preserving the health and well-being of millions. COVID-19 will not be stopped without access to safe water for people living in vulnerability, UN experts said. 

The impacts of COVID-19 could be considerably higher on the urban poor living in slums, who don’t have access to clean water. UN-Habitat is working with partners to facilitate access to running water and handwashing in informal settlements

UNICEF is urgently appealing for funding and support to reach more girls and boys with basic water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, especially those children who are cut off from safe water because they live in remote areas, or in places where water is untreated or polluted, or because they are without a home, living in a slum or on the street.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is adjusting its WASH services to prevent the spread of the disease. This includes continued support to affected, at-risk, low-capacity, and fragile countries to secure WASH services and infection prevention control in health facilities. 

Read more about the work in response to COVID-19 by UN-Water members and partners.

Water Action Decade, 2018-2028

40 percent shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030 coupled with a rising world population has the world careening towards a global water crisis. Recognizing the growing challenge of water scarcity the UN General Assembly launched the Water Action Decade on 22 March 2018, to mobilize
action that will help transform how we manage water.

Facts and Figures

Goal 6 Targets

6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate

6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes

6.A By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling, and reuse technologies

6.B Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management



World Water Assessment Programme


UNDP Water and Ocean Governance

UN Water for Life Decade

UN-HABITAT Water and Sanitation

A Post-2015 Global Goal for Water: Recommendations from UN-Water

Water and Sustainable Development Goals

Information briefs on water and sustainable development

UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication

UN Water and Sanitation Best Practices Platform

Water Action Decade

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