#40 SDG 6 Clean water and Sanitation – The most important of all!

Image of UN goal 6
Image by United Nations

In this Consequences Blog#40 I am keen to consider the topic of Sustainability Development Goal Target #6 – clean water and sanitation as a foundation for life on earth. The angle I also want to explore is how this situation has stood the test of time. Way back before and during the time of the steam engine (1950-1910) and while the manufacturing economy of the industrial era transferred to the digital economy (1995-2005) and early robotic (1997-2007). Even as the digital economy of the information era is now mobilizing into the circular economy of the enabling era with strong drivers of automation (2015 –???) – a period that is way beyond my life-time (possibly)! Humans cannot survive without clean water and to have clean water the sanitation processes must be efficient.

Having clean water and sanitation is often expected and taken for granted in wealthy countries and often considered to be a concern only for developing countries. A good example of this is outlined in a article describing how water- sensitive innovations to transform health of slums and environment are being activated in both Fiji and Indonesia.

Polluted water and inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene cause around 80% of diseases and one in four deaths in developing countries.

Although the focus is on developing countries concerns are broadening across all parts of the globe:

The world is recognizing that existing strategies simply aren’t working

So what kinds of strategies are working? Interestingly clean water and sanitation have in some way had to keep pace with the changing paradigms and if for no other reason than to keep up with expanding populations and their consequent demands.

Independent sites that can recycle their own wastewater and harvest rainwater are leading the way and quite often such structures can be found in the developing countries. In addition such recycling provides and creates green spaces for water cleansing and food cultivation. These actions are often achieved by restoring natural waterways to encourage diversity that can deal with flooding.

It is interesting how the topic of providing or ensuring secure and reliable water and sanitation is not only good for public health but creates resilient communities.

Australia has been doing some good work in designing clean water and sanitation systems. Being innovative with more contemporary approaches these actions are being considered for the upgrading of urban projects. In this approach demonstration of decisions being based on an ecosystem means it cannot be just about a single goal. For example to improve health and well-being (Global Goal #3 – future Consequences Blog) and Global Goal #11 (Consequences Blog#35 sustainable cities and consumption) it becomes difficult to plan one without the other.

While these goals are clearly important, achieving them demands an integrated and holistic approach.

In fact:

Trying to solve each goal individually is not only inefficient in terms of time and money, it can have unintended consequences as it misses the intrinsic connections and feedback loop between them.

As stated clearly in the Fiji and Indonesia trials the work being done is taking a real-world solution approach based on the fact that having access to clean water and sanitation is a global human right. Maybe this is why across the shifting paradigms SDG Target #6 has always had to be fulfilled – for humans to stay in existence?

I actually find the tension between the rhetoric and reality quite concerning. If clean water and sanitation is so important (as it has been across the paradigms of change) why are we still hearing stories such as ‘mans mighty footprint’ has taken a negative hold. For example in an article titled how we found pollution-poisoned crustaceans in the Mariana Trench issues of clean water and sanitation have a very close alignment to water pollution.

The Mariana Trench, is located in the western Pacific ocean, and presents as an example of extremely deep waters found across the globe. In recent research on different species of tiny scavenging crustaceans unexpected revelations of water pollution were found. There are many kinds of water forms across the world and water pollution cannot be completely avoided but definitely not expected in some of the far-reaching places.

In the deep sea these pollutants are particularly concerning as they are inherently hydrophobic, which means they will bind to anything that isn’t water. Therefore the primary mechanism of food supply to great depths is also a very sufficient way to deliver pollution.

To me it also demonstrates how such increases in pollution have possibly been built up over the changing paradigms. Historically these levels have gone un-noticed but along with many other increasing negative trajectories this situation must no longer be ignored.

The reality is that the deep sea just isn’t that remote, and the great depth and pressures are only an imaginary defence against the effects of what we do “up here”. The bottom line is that the deep-sea – most of planet Earth- is anything but exempt from the consequences of what happens above it, and it’s about time we appreciated that.

As my journey in considering the 17 Sustainability Development Goals has evolved I have come to understand how some of these goals are fundamental to their being any future paradigms! In this Consequences Blog#40 I go as far as arguing that this particular Global Goal #6 is one that must not be ignored. If we cannot ensure this goal is met for all humans across the globe then the paradigm that develops post the automation era may not be given an opportunity to take its rightful place!



2 thoughts on “#40 SDG 6 Clean water and Sanitation – The most important of all!”

  1. Access to clean water is a basic right that should be real for everyone and everywhere. De facto, I agree that it is certainly one of the most important UN goals, if not the most important one! We can all play a role, individually but also collectively: companies, NGOs, governments, and even startups. You might be interested in our article that wants to show how startups, in particular, using innovative technology, can help corporations to use water more sustainably: https://www.valuer.ai/blog/aligning-business-with-sdg-6-by-collaborating-with-startups.

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