UN Approves Goal to Achieve Universal Water and Sanitation by 2030

Sustainable Development Goals provide framework for global cooperation for the next 15 years.


On Friday, September 25th, 193 member states of the United Nations agreed to a set of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that set the course for global cooperation to end extreme poverty, increase human and environmental health, and eliminate inequalities within and among nations. UN member states committed to direct their policies and efforts toward achieving these goals by 2030, including a goal to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon claimed, “This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind.” The seventeen goals, and 169 corresponding targets, are the result of over two years of negotiations among nations and civil society groups. They include goals that specifically address gender inequality and targets that require improvements for more vulnerable and often overlooked groups, including those with disabilities. The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by consensus of the 193 member nations of the United Nations, are not legally binding, but apply to all nations and carry a morally coercive power that translates into increased cooperation and accountability.

All of the SDGs must be met in the next fifteen years, by 2030, though some targets have earlier deadlines. The UN established the SDGs as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established in 2000, expire at the end of 2015 after meeting with varying degrees of success. The MDG to reduce by half the proportion of people without safe water was met in 2010, but the goal to reduce the proportion of people without sanitation remains unmet.

The Sustainable Development Goals are:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  4. Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  8. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  11. Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
  15. Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.
  16. Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
  17. Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

“We are the first generation in human history that can say we can actually see the end of extreme poverty,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in an interview Thursday, just as Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress advocating for the poor and vulnerable. Kim continued that the efforts of faith-based groups are essential to this task. “Along with the Catholic Church we have reached out to faith-based groups because we really do believe that this is something we share deeply with the faith-based groups. Every single faith that we know of says that extreme poverty is bad and it’s the responsibility of people of faith to address this problem.”

The UN’s official approval of the SDGs arrives contemporaneously with Pope Francis’s visit to United States and address to the UN General Assembly calling for greater efforts to protect and support the poorest and most vulnerable groups. In an encyclical released earlier this year, Pope Francis called the right to water and sanitation, formally adopted by the UN in 2010, a “universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.”

SDG Goal 6 aims to secure universal access to water and sanitation, a goal toward which Lifewater has been working for nearly 40 years, specifically focusing on mobilizing communities to gain access to a sustainable source of safe drinking water as well as to construct and use latrines that stop the spread of disease and keep women and children safer. SDG Goal 6 includes these and several other targets, including:

  • By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
  • By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
  • By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
  • Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

“We welcome this new agenda for global corporations to help the world’s vulnerable children and families,” said Justin Narducci, Lifewater’s President/CEO. “WASH is critical to the success of many of the other SDGs because they help keep people safe and healthy, help more girls to attend school, which reduces gender inequality, and improve everyone’s opportunity to participate in the economy.” He adds, “We’ll continue to focus on our strength of serving the unreached and underserved in Africa and Asia so that these global gains can benefit those living in remote or difficult areas. We want the momentum of hope to reach and transform every life. I fully expect to see an end to the water and sanitation crisis in my lifetime.”

Last year, Lifewater helped over 50,000 people in remote, rural areas in Africa and Asia gain access to clean water, improved sanitation, and hygiene education (WASH) for the first time. These interventions prevent water-borne diseases that kill over 1,000 children under five each day. Lifewater continues to work in cooperation with local and national efforts to achieve universal access to safe water and sanitation.


Lifewater International is a non-profit Christian water development organization dedicated to effectively serving vulnerable children and families by partnering with underserved communities to overcome water poverty. With experience in more than 40 countries since 1977, Lifewater serves people of all faiths, focusing on contextually appropriate water sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) development. For more information, contact Christine Zurbach ( or visit Lifewater International is based in San Luis Obispo, CA.

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