SDG Challenges

The work to achieve the SDGs is riddled with social, economic, and political hurdles. The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) is the arm of the United Nations (UN) devoted to tracking progress towards Sustainable Development Goals. Standardization remains a serious problem for adequate tracking of progress towards goals; clear protocols and consistent widespread assessment are not guaranteed. This metric gap in measuring success towards goals leaves open the possibility for claiming success toward SDGs when the bare minimum has been reached.

Unfortunately, willingness by companies, countries, and NGOs to fund the SDGs in general has fallen far short of what is necessary. The United Nations (2019) cited a 2.7% decrease in official development assistance and 8% decrease in humanitarian aid between 2017 and 2018. For every dollar in public investment, about $0.37 of private investment is mobilized, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (Attridge & Engen, 2019).

Even within the WASH sector, sanitation attracts less attention than the goal to provide clean drinking water. For instance, during the Millennium Development Goal period, the global target for drinking water was met five years ahead of schedule, but the target for sanitation was missed by nearly 700 million people (UNICEF & WHO, 2015). This may reveal a mental disconnect around the relationship between safe sanitation and clean drinking water; it’s very difficult to have one without the other. Although sanitation has been declared a basic human right by the United Nations (2009), access to a toilet is still out of reach for many worldwide. As mentioned previously, more than 4.5 billion people do not have access to toilets where waste is treated and disposed of safely (UNICEF & WHO, 2017).

Clearly, there is much work to be done to address budget shortfalls and questionable commitment by some key parties. It would also be helpful if there were a clear target (i.e., an indicator for water quality) so that governments and industry have something to guide them, or even move them, to act.