Importance of SDG target 6.1 and its financing

After the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have come as Agenda 2030. As a signatory to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Bangladesh is politically committed to implement and achieve the 39+1 targets of SDGs by 2030. SDG target 6.1 entails that by 2030 all countries in the world will achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. But Bangladesh has set this target well ahead of 2030 in its 7th Five-Year (2015-2020) Plan. The 7th FYP reflects a continuation of the major goals articulated in the 6th FYP. The core targets set in line with the vision and goals of the Perspective Plan under the 7th FYP include among others ‘Safe Drinking Water for All’ by 2020.

Dwellers of the slum along the tracks near Moghbazar level crossing depend on a few tube wells for water but some these are also out of service. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

The 7th FYP has emphasised among others a sustained and balanced use of water resources for drinking water and salinity. Saltwater intrusion affects drinking water quality and limits food production in the coastal zone. Besides, floods intensify the contamination of drinking water, causing outbreaks of contagious diseases. It slows down economic development and hinders improvement of livelihood of the affected people.

While an estimated 82 percent of the urban residents have access to safe drinking water, more than 6 million people in urban areas remain without access to safe water. Availability of clean water is essential for human well-being. The existing situation over urban water supply is not satisfactory. Although there has been an increase in the percentage of people having access to piped water, 59.18 percent still have to depend on private hand tube wells. A small percentage of the urban population, however, uses pond, river or other sources of drinking water. The situation is extremely bad in district towns where piped water supply covers only 19 percent of the population who lie mostly in the core areas. (Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives – Performance, Issues, and Lessons Learnt, 7th Five Year Plan FY 2016 – FY 2020)

The urban piped water supply could only marginally keep pace with the increased urban population through expansion work in existing piped supply systems but the reliability of these systems remained far from adequate due to a variety of reasons, including inadequate power supply, non-payment of electricity bills and a lack of competent workers in the municipalities. As a result, most households have hand pump tube wells despite having connections to the piped system. Besides, a large portion of the urban population live outside piped water supply service areas and resort to hand-pump tube wells only. Hand pump tube wells used in urban areas are not always screened for arsenic contamination – the reason is twofold – sometimes it happens due to lack of awareness to conduct test and in other cases the concerned government authority (e.g. DPHE) lacks from  required resources both in terms of adequate manpower and availability of data. As a result, the risk of being exposed to arsenic contamination remains.

The government of Bangladesh has formulated or adopted a number of policies to address the challenges and to manage the present and future demand for safe water supply and sanitation in a sustainable way. Some key policies are:

a)   National policy for safe water supply and sanitation 1998 (WSS policy),

b)   National policy for arsenic mitigation and its implementation procedure 2004 (Arsenic policy),

c)   National sanitation strategy 2005,

d)   Sector Development Plan (2011-2025), Water Supply and Sanitation Sector,

e)   Pro-poor strategy for water and sanitation sector in Bangladesh 2005,

f)   National cost-sharing strategy for water supply and sanitation in Bangladesh 2012,

g)   National Strategy for Water and Sanitation: Hard to reach areas of Bangladesh,

h)   National Vetting Guideline for water supply and sanitation sub-sector in Bangladesh; and

i)   Bangladesh Water Act, 2013.

These policies were formulated before the adoption of SDGs in 2016. There is no visible regulatory framework for production and marketing of safe drinking water except quality standard set by the BSTI. Therefore, it is a felt need that the government should revisit all these policies and come up with a comprehensive national water and sanitation policy in line with SDG targets so that all stakeholders, including the government, non-government organisations and business, are clear about the scope of the engagement.

In order to achieve this, a huge amount of financial resource is required. It is highly anticipated that the government cannot achieve this alone without the support from development partners, NGOs and the private sector. A study conducted by the General Economics Division (GED) reveals the fact that Bangladesh would need additional financing of $928 billion up to 2030 or $66 billion on an annual basis to achieve the SDGs. Through the SDG Financing Strategy of Bangladesh, much of these additional financial resources have been estimated to come from the private sector (42 percent), government (34 percent), development partners (15 percent), public-private partnerships or PPPs (6 percent), and NGOs (4 percent).  As the government will need a significant amount of investment from the private sector to achieve SDG targets, especially SDG 6, the private sector will need a conducive business environment in terms of policy and reduced cost of doing business.

The world is embracing the importance of environmental sustainability, business organisations in developed countries are placing a greater emphasis on addressing the global water crisis, and minimising the impact on themselves and the world as well. We can say that Bangladesh is no exception from this and must acknowledge the fact that it should create ample scope for the business to finance the SDGs. While formulating an umbrella policy, the government may consider incentives like tax cut for imported water treatment machinery, lower or no tax for land purchase, easy lease process of Khas lands, and PPPs. There is also immense scope for business organisations in forms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to contribute to achieving the goals. The government needs to create the most conducive enabling environment for this to facilitate opportunities so that businesses can contribute to innovation, and for local community initiatives to thrive so that they can address 39+1 SDG targets with special focus on SDG 6. Only then Bangladesh shall be able to achieve its highly ambitious target on safe drinking water and be a role model to the rest of the world.

This opinion was first published in, click here to read in the site.

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