Hands together holding clean water from a estuary
Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all


Clean, accessible water for all, in sufficient quantities to sustain ecosystems, is an essential part of the world we want to live in. Although there is apparently an abundance of water on the planet, it is not always available in the manner and quality needed.


Water scarcity, caused by climate change and ineffective management, together with poor water quality and inadequate sanitation all negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, drought mainly afflicts the most densely populated areas and the most vulnerable countries, increasing water insecurity and reducing the capacity to produce food.


By 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

Key messages from the region on the issues addressed by SDG 6 and its targets

      • Water-related conflicts have increased considerably in recent years, becoming highly complex, with an impact on economies, the political sphere, social stability, populations and the environment.

      • In recent decades, Latin American and Caribbean countries’ relationships with water resources have undergone a major change, thanks to the increasing modernization of the water sector’s regulatory frameworks, which now include aspects such as the human right to water and respect for the environment.
      • Many countries could experience acute changes in water availability and quality as a result of the effects of climate change. The frequency, intensity and spatial distribution of floods, droughts, tropical cyclones and other extreme weather events may vary. The impact of climate change is likely to be greatest in areas where there is water scarcity, heavy pollution or highly vulnerable conditions.

    Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all in Latin America and the Caribbean

    Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all in Latin America and the Caribbean

    The analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) presented here is the outcome of the discussions held within the framework of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and Caribbean on Sustainable Development, convened under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Challenges and opportunities for implementation, follow-up and review of SDG 6 and its targets

    • Challenges

      • Improvements in wastewater treatment have not kept pace with population growth. Moreover, in many low-income households, the technology used for provision of water and sanitation cannot ensure service stability and quality: access is often intermittent owing to drought or infrastructure breakdowns and water supplies are not always properly treated. This has repercussions on the health of the population, in particular among children and vulnerable persons.

      • Most of the region’s rivers are more polluted now than they were in the 1990s.

      • As regards the goal of ensuring basic guarantees for the development of individuals, their families and communities, there is a substantial gap between rural and urban areas, which is a source of asymmetry in access to drinking water and especially in access to sanitation services.


      • Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, SDG 6 includes environment- and ecosystem-related targets, and applies stricter criteria for access to safe drinking water and sanitation, including criteria relating to quality.

Lessons learned and good practices with respect to SDG 6 and its targets

      • Transboundary aquifers are crucial to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. In some countries, they are the main source of water, while in others they are underexploited. Many aquifers, such as the Pantanal aquifer that is shared by Brazil, Paraguay and the Plurinational State of Bolivia, are vital for the ecosystems that depend on them.

      • The groundbreaking Guaraní Aquifer Agreement signed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2010 and ratified by all the riparian States in 2018, could provide useful policy lessons for improving water security in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Agreement regulates the management and use of this resource and although it has not yet entered into force, it has established the foundations and principles for its future application.
      • The Ganadería Colombiana Sostenible (“Sustainable Colombian Livestock”) project is an example of how silvopastoral production systems can raise farm productivity while enhancing the provision of environmental services. These include: improved water regulation and erosion control, increased biodiversity and carbon storage, and reduced nitrous oxide and methane gas emissions. After five years of implementation, the quality of the water running near the farms improved, with 72.7% less biochemical oxygen demand, soil erosion decreased by 7 tons per hectare and a substantial increase in the presence of birds and soil-dwelling invertebrates.

Recommendations from Latin America and the Caribbean to achieve SDG 6 and its targets

      • To make progress towards SDG 6 there must be integrated water resources management at all levels —national, local and river basin— and through cross-border cooperation.

      • By promoting efficient, sustainable water management, it is possible to do more with less and decouple economic growth from environmental degradation (SDG target 8.4).

      • Teaching materials should be created for schools on the importance of access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation services, and partnerships established to facilitate exchanges of information between the education, water and health sectors regarding access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

      • The asymmetry in access to information and technology must be addressed, as must the capacity gap that arises from insufficient scientific and technical knowledge to design and implement water management and risk prevention policies.

      • Average spending on research and development must be doubled (it is currently less than 0.7% of GDP) and the tiny fraction allocated to water innovation and research must be increased.
      • Hazards linked to weather and water events must be identified and national strategies for disaster risk management must be strengthened.

      • Spending must focus on forecasting and early warning services, with reliable risk assessments, timely and easily understood warnings, and safety protocols for water infrastructure.

      • If a region is well endowed with water resources, it has considerable potential for the development of sustainable tourism and should reach a regional agreement to advance in this area (SDG target 8.9).

      • Faced with inequity or inadequate inclusion, it is important to remember that access to drinking water and access to decent sanitation are fundamental human rights that must be advanced, above all in rural areas. The legal and institutional frameworks of each country must recognize these rights and guarantee their effective enjoyment.