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Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

How to increase food production using less water is one of the great challenges of our times. Evidence suggests that two-thirds of the world population could be living in water-stressed countries by 2025 if current consumption patterns continue.

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, and the livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening levels of hunger and malnutrition.

Crops and livestock already account for 70 percent of all water withdrawals, and up to 95 percent in some developing countries. Water withdrawal for irrigation and livestock will increase as global population growth and economic development drive food demand up. Dietary trends point to a global increase in consumption of food that requires more water to be produced, like meat.

FAO is working with countries towards ensuring water use in agriculture is made more efficient, productive, equitable and environmentally friendly. This involves producing more food while using less water, building resilience of farming communities to cope with floods and droughts, and applying clean water technologies that protect the environment.

FAO also supports countries to monitor water resources use efficiency, and level of stress, , supporting economic development, and ensuring water resources are still available for future generations and to support ecosystems.

In meeting the world’s future fuel and food needs, improved knowledge, research and innovation in more productive and sustainable use of water, especially for food and energy, will be paramount.

Facts and figures

  • Since 1990, well over two billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water, and 116 countries have met the MDG target for drinking water supply.
  • More than 700 million people still remain without access to improved sources of drinking water, nearly half of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Some 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • In the 20th century, water withdrawal grew by almost twice the rate of population increase.
  • In the coming decades, one-third of the world’s population – many living in the semi-arid regions of Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa – will experience severe water scarcity.
  • About two billion people worldwide depend on groundwater, which includes about 300 transboundary aquifer systems.
  • Agriculture is by far the largest user of water, accounting for almost 70 percent of all water withdrawals, and up to 95 percent in developing countries.
  • While irrigated agriculture represents 20 percent of total cultivated land, it contributes 40 percent of total food produced worldwide.
  • The demand for water for irrigation is projected to increase by around 5 percent by 2050.
  • Depending on the diet, from 2 000 to 5 000 litres of water are needed to produce the food consumed daily by one person. 

SDG6 Targets

  1. By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  2. By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
  3. By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
  4. By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
  5. By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
  6. By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

a. By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

b. Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management 

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