October 11 marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl Child. This United Nations (UN) milestone recognizes the rights of girls and the unique challenges they face around the world. Among these challenges is the responsibility that many girls have to collect household water for their families. In fact, girls and women are the water carriers in 80 percent of water-deprived households, according to the UN. The time and energy required to procure water, often by walking substantial distances carrying heavy loads, and in some cases risking assault, can have a devastating effect on a girl’s education, and therefore, her future.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #6 of the UN 2030 Agenda aspires to provide safely managed drinking water and sanitation for all people by 2030. The 2022 Report on the UN SDGs indicates two billion people lacked safely managed drinking water in 2020; by 2030, this number is estimated to fall to 1.6 billion. While representing progress, that is, unfortunately, far short of the SDG #6 timeline for universal access. Life without safely managed drinking water is fraught with the risk of waterborne disease. Safely managed drinking water, including treatment with chlorine-based disinfectants, is a major contributor to good public health.
An interesting feature of the SDGs is their interconnectivity: Progress made toward achieving one goal often has a positive effect on the achievement of one or more of the others. For example, in making headway toward universal safely managed drinking water (SDG #6), SDG #3 (good health and well-being) and SDG #8 (decent work and economic growth) are advanced. As the world progresses toward SDG #6, the heavy burden of water procurement will be lifted from the shoulders of girls in developing nations, helping to further gender equality (SDG #5) through equal access to education. It will be a significant step forward for girls in their rightful quest to reach their fullest human potential.