Many policy tools and responses proved successful in increasing access to potable water and improved sanitation during the MDG period (2000-2015). Though water-related investments and appropriate policy tools remain a top global priority, there are significant differences across nations and between rural and urban areas. Innovative technology has played an important role, with the introduction of ventilated improved pit latrines by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the 1980s, and small-bore hand pumps proving effective in many parts of Africa. An array of technologies will be needed to meet the unique circumstances of individual communities and the aggressive goals of SDG targets 6.1 and 6.2. Construction of water-harvesting cisterns in Brazilian rural areas reduced time spent collecting water by 90 per cent (Gomes and Heller 2016). Nonetheless, much still remains to be done to narrow the gaps in access identified in Section 9.7.1.
Drinking water and sanitation are recognized as basic human rights with considerable economic benefits realized through investing in water and sanitation provisions. These benefits can be quantified as an overall estimated gain of 1.5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and a US$4.3 return for every dollar invested. This is attributable to reduced human health-care costs, greater workplace productivity and involvement through better access to relevant facilities (WHO 2017b).
Inadequate funding, corruption and rapid population growth still limit the achievement of SDG water and sanitation targets in African, Latin American and West Asian countries (UNEP 2016c; UNEP 2016d; UNEP 2016f). The funding gap is partly being addressed with allocation of domestic funds, for example in the 2003 Pan African Implementation and Partnership Conference on Water Declaration (African Union [AU] 2015; UNEP 2016d). Latin American governments have provided wider access to safe potable water for vulnerable populations using public funds (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 2017; UNEP 2016f).
WHO launched ‘TrackFin’, a methodology to track financing of water, sanitation and hygiene at national level, enabling more evidence-based policymaking (UN-Water and WHO 2015).
Market approaches as policy tools
Drinking water access and sanitation are generally considered public goods financed and/or provided through governmental or quasi-governmental entities. However, water pricing for users that reflect water treatment costs (both capital and operations) and incentivize water conservation (Giannakis et al. 2016), as well as private investment in water, have become more common in parts of the world, while remaining controversial in others (Harris et al. 2015).
Regulatory programmes throughout North America, Europe and many parts of Asia rely on enforceable regulations at multiple governmental levels, focusing on delivery of safe drinking water through public utilities and appropriate wastewater treatment before discharging. Drinking-water standards protect public health, especially for vulnerable communities. A robust regulatory programme, focusing on enforceable municipal and specifically industrial discharge permits, could improve the policy approach in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America (Masson, Walter and Priester 2013; Aguilar-Barajas et al. 2015; UNEP 2016f).