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INTELLIGENT WATER SOLUTIONS
How will the SDGs influence the water industry?
There is a specific goal for water and sanitation (SDG 6), which
aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management
of water and sanitation for all. Targets 1 and 2 under the
water goal build on the MDG targets for access to water and
sanitation, but are much more ambitious – they envisage
universal access by 2030.
Targets 3 to 6 address the broader water issues of improving
water quality, increasing water use efficiency, integrated water
resource management, and protecting and restoring water-related
ecosystems. These targets go well beyond the ‘taps and toilets’
that were the focus of the MDGs.
While SDG 6 is the starting point for the water industry, it should
not be narrowly focused on the water goal alone. The industry
should set out to achieve multiple goals – not just the goal
relating to water. This requires industry professionals to be more
interdisciplinary in their thinking and approach.
Water is connected to almost all of the SDGs, from achieving food
security (SDG 2) to protecting ecosystems (SDG 15). Access to
clean water and sanitation is clearly linked to good health (SDG 3)
through reduced water-related diseases like diarrhoea and malaria.
Good water management can also promote active, healthy green
spaces in sustainable cities (SDG 11).
The link between water and education (SDG 4) may not be so
immediately apparent, but I saw in my time working in Timor-Leste
that many girls missed out on education because they spent so
much time collecting water. Many teenage girls stopped going to
school because the school didn’t have a toilet. Water management
can have a big impact on gender equality (SDG 5).
One way to look at the interlinkages between the SDGs is to
think of them as a jigsaw. How do the pieces fit together? This
is what the water industry needs to do in planning for the growth
in demand for water services. It should seek to maximise the
synergies between the goals and minimise trade-offs.
As well as becoming more interdisciplinary, there are two other
ways in which the water industry will need to change if it is to
make the most of the SDGs.
As Minister for Water during Melbourne’s long drought, I learnt
of the need for the water industry to engage more closely with
communities, and to understand human behaviour much better.
Understanding and influencing behaviours will be critical to
achieving many of the goals. For example, we face many
behavioural challenges in successfully delivering water and
sanitation programs in the developing world, not least in obtaining
sufficient community and government support for change.
Overcoming these challenges will require a much greater focus on
understanding behaviours, habits and beliefs.
The third area of change is in our response to inequality. In
committing to the SDGs, all countries pledged that ‘no-one will be
The goal is universal access: nobody left behind
This raises difficult questions about equality for the water industry.
In wealthy countries like Australia, is livability something for the
wealthy suburbs while poorer suburbs continue to miss out? What
about some remote Aboriginal communities that continue to have
inadequate water and sanitation systems? In our neighbourhood
of South-East Asia and the Pacific, around one billion people lack
access to safe water and sanitation. How can that be remedied at
a time of massive urbanisation?
These are mighty challenges, but the SDGs give us the motivation,
the framework and the opportunity to do something about them.
THE GOALS COVER THE
AND THE ENVIRONMENT
ACTION, OCEANS AND
ALL COUNTRIES FACE
CHALLENGES, AND THE
CHOICES THAT RICH
COUNTRIES MAKE IN
RELATION TO THEIR
DEVELOPMENT HAVE A
SPILLOVER EFFECT ON
THE ABILITY OF POOR
COUNTRIES TO ACHIEVE
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