Scaling Up Water Sustainability

Since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were adopted, the global community has rightly focused on providing access to basic water and sanitation services. As the UN prepares to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the MDGs, large-scale water infrastructure should be placed front and center.

NEW YORK – Since 2000, when the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted, the global community has rightly focused significant attention on providing access to basic water and sanitation services. From 1990 to 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved water sources. As the United Nations prepares to adopt so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the post-2015 successor to the MDGs, the high-stakes business of large-scale water infrastructure should be placed front and center.

The conventional wisdom has been that improved access to water depends on digging wells, adopting community-based solutions, and focusing aid programs on reaching more people. But these important measures are only one part of a much larger – and more capital-intensive – strategy.

According to a recent report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization on their joint monitoring program for water supply and sanitation, more than 1.2 billion of those who gained access to water from 1990 to 2008 had it piped to their premises. This number dwarfs the impact of the “small-scale” sources – from dug wells to rainwater harvesting – that many believe have done the most to solve the problem.

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