The world is at a turning point. In July, the final report for the Millennium Development Goals was released, and this month, world leaders are meeting to commit to a new set of goals to reach by 2030. The goals are ambitious and cover important topics like protecting the world's oceans, creating sustainable cities, ending extreme poverty and achieving gender equality.
In an integrated world, the goals will only be achievable if we approach them in a holistic way. As we wrote about earlier this year, safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are the foundation upon which many of the goals can be built. Goal #6, ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, is an essential component for achieving most of the goals.
We thought it would be helpful to examine the importance of WASH to achieving the first five goals already covered in this series:
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
The cost of poor WASH to the global economy is staggering. For example, lack of adequate sanitation costs the world 260 billion dollars a year, which is more than the entire GDP of 140 countries. The high economic impact is due to increased health-care costs, loss of productivity, premature deaths and loss of tourism dollars.
In addition, the time spent collecting and storing water decreases productivity around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, households would save 60 to 90 minutes a day if they had access to safe drinking water for their family. That is time that could be used at an income-generating job, caring for family members or attending school. It is not surprising to learn that for every dollar invested in WASH, four dollars is returned to the global economy.
Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
WASH is a critical component to ensuring adequate nutrition and can affect people through numerous pathways. For instance, when children without WASH become sick, their bodies cannot absorb all of the nutrients from the food they consume, and much of their energy is spent fighting disease. Even when children are well fed, they can still experience stunting and malnutrition because of poor water and sanitation. Access to WASH is vital to nutrition interventions and ensures that women and children can fully use the nutrients they consume.
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Access to WASH is a critical component to preventing the spread of diseases like Ebola, polio, and cholera. Diarrhea and pneumonia, often caused by lack of WASH, kill millions of children each year. Integrating WASH into specific neglected tropical-disease programs has proven an effective strategy for reducing disease and handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to prevent infections.
Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, former Director General of the World Health Organization, summed up the importance of WASH perfectly when he said, "Once we can secure access to clean water and to adequate sanitation facilities for all people, irrespective of the difference in their living conditions, a huge battle against all kinds of diseases will be won."
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
A study in Kenya found that providing a school with safe drinking water and hygiene promotion led to a 58% reduction in girls' absenteeism. Why do you think that is? Well, imagine going to school every day and not having a place to go to the bathroom. Imagine always being sick because the school does not have safe drinking water for the students or teachers. Imagine being a girl who has started menstruating and the school does not have a safe, clean place to change sanitary materials or wash hands. WASH in schools makes children and teachers healthier, enables schoolchildren to perform to their highest potential, and provides girls the safety and dignity to properly manage their periods.
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Women are disproportionately affected by a lack of safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene and are generally the primary water collectors in families. Women can spend hours each day collecting water for their families -- time that could be spent on other activities. In addition, when latrines are not available in households, women and girls will seek privacy after dark to defecate outside of their homes, exposing them to a greater risk of harassment and sexual assault. Providing access to WASH close to home and involving women in the WASH process contributes to women's empowerment and equality.
We know that improving access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation, and hygiene prevents disease, but it has many other impacts as well. Not only does access to WASH provide health, safety, and dignity to community members and households, but it also reaches nutrition, education, gender, and more. The goals are ambitious, but doable. A holistic approach is needed and that starts with ensuring access to water, sanitation and hygiene for everyone.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 6.