When the global community gathered in 2015 determine the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDG), Goal 6 was formed “to ensure availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030”. Unfortunately, the UN has announced that we’re not on track to achieve this goal by the 2030 deadline.

Today, 4.5 billion people live without safely managed sanitation and 892 million people still practice open defecation. Lack of sanitation on this scale that affects not only public health, but living conditions, nutrition, education, and economic productivity across the world. This means that the entire Agenda for Sustainable Development is at risk.

So, how do we take on this monstrous task and ensure that all SDGs can be achieved by 2030? We must address the two key elements required to improve sanitation and access to clean water in disadvantaged communities: Infrastructure and Education.

Infrastructure is key to ensuring that marginalised communities can access safely managed sanitation. Water tanks and filters, toilets, handwashing stations and effective sewerage systems are essential for improving sanitation and reducing disease. In Northern India where we work for example, most children don’t have access to clean drinking water. Through the FutureSense Foundation, we were recently able to purchase and install a water purifier at one of our partner schools. All children at the school now have access to safe drinking water whenever they need it, protecting them against many waterborne diseases.

As much as infrastructure provides the tools for improved sanitation in marginalised communities, without education these tools may never be properly used. In many of the marginalised communities where we work, both children and adults have never been taught about basic hygiene and sanitation. These topics generally aren’t taught at school or spread in public health campaigns, which means that parents don’t have the knowledge to pass on hygienic habits to their children. This means that providing infrastructure like installing a handwashing station at a school won’t improve sanitation unless children are also taught that washing their hands will prevent them from getting sick.

We work to improve health education in a number of ways. In Cambodia, we teach families that struggle to access clean water why it is important that they boil their water before they drink it to reduce disease. We also provide them with a kettle to facilitate this. In Thailand, power cuts and seasonal droughts in remote hill tribe villages limits access to flowing water for washing hands and flushing toilets. While it is possible to travel to the nearest town to purchase clean water in these instances, many community members don’t know why this is important and simply wait until the water comes back. We work with our partner hill tribe communities to raise awareness of the importance of water for washing hands and flushing toilets to help reduce the spread of illness and disease.

If individuals, communities, businesses and governments all take action to tackle sanitation issues across the world, we can get back on track to achieving Goal 6 and the rest of the Global Goals. We believe that with a united global community, anything is possible!

If you’d like to get involved, check out our Health Promotion Challenges!

Want to learn more about SDG 6? Check out the dedicated UN website.