Posted: Wednesday 13th June 2018

Better management of water resources and more efficient water use are essential to the delivery of universal access to clean water and sanitation, according to Professor Stefan Uhlenbrook, Director of UNESCO Programme Office for Global Water Assessment.

According to the professor's research, 2.1 billion people around the world still lack safely managed drinking water while 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation services, presenting a global challenge for civil engineers.

On Monday 21 May, Professor Uhlenbrook delivered the 2018 Gerald Lacey memorial lecture at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), presenting findings from his ongoing evidence-based review to establish the global baseline status of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) 6 - ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation. Professor Uhlenbrook was invited to speak ahead of the first Global Engineering Congress, hosted by ICE together with the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, to agree a worldwide response to deliver the UN SDGs in October 2018.

Professor Uhlenbrook reported all heads of UN member states have now agreed that implementing integrated water resources management (IWRM) is essential towards achieving SDG 6. This would ensure that water resources are shared effectively among many competing demands, including across country borders. Only 38% of countries reported at least medium-high IWRM implementation in 2017/18.

Other recommended actions that would help progress towards SDG 6 include increasing water-use efficiency by reducing water losses, such as tackling leakage in municipal distribution networks. Currently, wastewater treatment uses 20% of the energy used by the water sector but by adopting existing energy-neutral technologies, wastewater treatment could become a source of energy production.

More and better quality data capture related to gender, income and migration status at regional and local level is also needed to deliver effective solutions. Smart technologies could be particularly helpful in providing data from developing countries, even in regions that lack extensive infrastructure.

Nathan Baker, Engineering Knowledge Director at ICE, said:

"The water goal is essential for progress on all other SDGs, with sustainable water management enabling social development, such as improving health and reducing poverty, and promoting economic growth across many industries.

"Civil engineers are in a unique and privileged position to help achieve the UN SDGs and ICE is committed to doing all it can to help the engineering sector develop practical steps to tackle SDG 6. The time has come to turn words into action and ICE is facilitating the global debate on engineering solutions at a Global Engineering Congress in October 2018."

Lecture attendees heard that 844 million people still lack a basic drinking water service - access to drinking water within 30 metres from home - while 263 million use a limited service. The latest findings from Professor Uhlenbrook's review also show significant subnational inequalities in basic drinking water services.

Meanwhile, over 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services and only 27 per cent of the population in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has access to soap and water for handwashing on premises. 892 million people still practise open defecation and the world is not on track to end open defecation by 2030.

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April 2021

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