4,900 days from now, in 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals will expire. If that feels like a long time, consider the work ahead. And by work, I dare not attempt to wrap my head around all 17 goals; I refer specifically to the WASH goal – SDG #6 – and even more specifically to the sanitation targets.
From my admittedly invested perch – I run a sanitation company – the most exciting thing about transitioning from the MDGs to the SDGs is the belated inclusion of treatment. There’s finally recognition that “improved sanitation” without treatment is not improved sanitation. The WASH community’s new mandate: “halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally” (SDG 6.3). But consider that the urban population still requiring “safely managed sanitation” today stands at 3.214 billion . Serving them entails expanding safe management, i.e., some form of treatment, to 625,000 people each day for the next 4,900 days. That’s basically a city a day.
How can we achieve such a massive expansion of safe fecal sludge and wastewater management? For starters, let’s stop building treatment plants. Heresy? There’s a better way.