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World is off the track on water and sanitation goal

New Delhi : The world is not on track to reach United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) on water and sanitation, with billions of people across the globe still lacking safe water, sanitation & handwashing facilities.

Also, water pollution seems to be worsening. While the water and sanitation sector lacks funding, governance structures in many countries are weak and fragmented, said a new report by UN-Water.

The report identifies that water and energy are closely associated while noting that a 48 per cent increase in global energy consumption is expected by 2040 (above 2012 levels).

"Water, sanitation and hygiene services, agriculture and industry all need energy for pumping water, treating wastewater, irrigating crops and desalination. Energy demands in the water sector are increasing as more farmers exploit groundwater for irrigation, and substantial increases in water treatment are expected in order to meet SDG 6 targets", it says.

On water, the report gives out startling facts: 844 million lack basic water services, 2.1 billion lack safely managed drinking water, 4.5 billion lack access to safely managed sanitation and 892 million still practice open defecation.

Only 27 per cent of the population in least developed countries has access to soap and water for handwashing on premises, it adds.

The report raises concern on the capacity front, saying that a serious lack of institutional and human capacity across the water sector is constraining progress, particularly in least developed countries.

At the same time, ecosystems and their services are in continuous decline. The world has lost 70 per cent of its natural wetlands over the last century, with profound impacts on economic development and social and environmental stability.

Political, institutional and administrative rules, practices and processes are inadequate in many countries, particularly those where pressures on water resources are greatest.

The report sees agriculture, which places enormous stress on water, as part of a water-saving solution. "The agriculture sector accounts for nearly 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals. Although its share of global withdrawals has decreased over the past decades, it increasingly contributes to global water consumption owing to a growing population and changing lifestyle patterns. Saving just a fraction of agricultural withdrawals would significantly alleviate water stress in other sectors", the report notes.

The UN-Water report urges governments to eliminate inequalities in access to water. "Effective policies, strategies and subsidies must be developed to ensure no one is left behind".

Also, water and sanitation should be financed through a new paradigm. "The efficiency of existing financial resources and mobilizing additional and innovative forms of domestic and international finance must be increased".

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