Frequent and proper handwashing is the most basic frontline defence against the spread of COVID-19. Yet a quarter of the world’s population lacks access to a reliable water supply—a far cry from the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 6 —Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The pandemic has heightened awareness of both the extent and consequences of this access gap, and it could slow down progress in meeting the SDG 6 development goal as revenue losses by water utilities affect their ability to make critical capital investments.
According to the United Nations, nearly one-third of people globally lack access to safely managed drinking water services. Over half lack access to safely managed sanitation facilities in the least-developed countries, about 22 percent of healthcare facilities lack access to improved water and improved sanitation services. These access deficits have potentially significant adverse impacts on people’s health, through water-related diseases, in addition to productivity and environmental impacts. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that unclean water and poor sanitation caused 829,000 deaths from diarrheal disease in 2016—equivalent to 1.9 percent of the global burden of disease.