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Global water challenges in focus on World Water Day


The world is not on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, according to a recent progress report from the UN. Billions of people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water and sanitation. This is a devastating situation, not the least during the current pandemic. On March 22, World Water Day sheds light on the global water crisis and the huge risks of mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource.


The School of Global Studies’ Sofie Hellberg, whose research focuses on power and inequality in relation to water access and use, answers three questions about World Water Day and the Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation for all.

What is World Water Day and why do we need it?

“World water day is an annual event, celebrated since 1993, that recognizes the importance of freshwater. The day is used to advocate for sustainable water management. Each year the day has a specific focus and this year’s theme is ‘valuing water’. This theme can be understood as a growing awareness and recognition of the value of water in all aspects of life in contrast to a view on water that sees it as merely a ‘resource’ and in terms of its monetary value.  Currently, one important focus of the World Water Day is to support the achievement of the water goal in the Sustainable Development Goals: SDG6.”

Tell us about SDG 6, why is it important?

“We are facing a range of water related challenges, many of which are aggravated by climate change. The SDG 6 has a broad span and addresses the following questions: access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation, water quality, water scarcity, water use efficiency, water management, ecosystems as well as international cooperation and local participation. We are however not on track to meet SDG 6. In the recently released progress report on SDG 6 we learn that 785 million people lack basic drinking water services and that more than half of the population in rural areas and three quarters in Least Developed Countries lack proper handwashing facilities. This is disastrous in the current pandemic situation. We also learn that data coverage is a main problem working with the SDG agenda. There is, for example, insufficient data to assess the status of the goals related to water quality and wastewater treatment, areas which are hugely important in relation to life and health.”

How can your research help reaching the goal?

“My research has been focusing on power and inequality in relation to water access and use. What I have learnt in this research is that the reasons why people do not have access to water is mostly due to power relations, political priorities and economic inequalities. The main message in relation to water management in general, and SDG 6 in particular, is therefore that water accessibility first and foremost is a question of governance and distribution rather than one of available physical quantities of water. On the basis of my research, I think it is also clear that in order to address current and future water challenges, we need to appreciate the many roles of water in our lives and our societies and rethink the question of what constitutes reasonable and sustainable uses of water.”

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