The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was established in 2015 and contains seventeen goals. These goals, known as SDGs, were developed to improve global health and well-being. Bhutan was one of the many nations to adopt this agenda. Although they have been specifically focusing on SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land), this South Asian country is also heavily focusing on SDG 6. SDG goal 6 primarily focuses on water sanitation and management being universally accessible. In fact, billions of people currently do not have access to safe drinking water or sanitation. As of 2017, only 58% of Central and South Asian countries had the ability to use soap and water to wash their hands at home. However, Bhutan has been making positive progress in their SDG goal 6.
Government Initiatives for SDG Goal 6
In 2018, Bhutan’s government launched its 12th National Five Year Plan. The agenda contains many SDGs in order to reduce poverty levels. Within the plan, the government has also developed National Key Result Areas (NKRA) to maintain accountability for its initiatives. There are three NKRAs that center on safe drinking water. NKRA 17 specifically targets sustainable water by focusing on maintaining proper irrigation and sanitation for quality water. The agenda plans to create at least six new programs dedicated to this goal, including a flagship program that will prioritize this issue.
While the Bhutan government has increased its focus on SDG 6, there is still room for improvement. According to the Annual Health Bulletin 2017, 4.1% of its citizens experience open defecation due to no access to hygienic toilets and proper water sanitation. Inequalities within this country also result in unequal access to clean water, especially in rural areas. However, more than 90% of rural homes in the country have improved water quality.
Bhutan works with many global organizations to improve clean water within their country. The organization Sanitation and Water for All is a multi-national partnership that focuses on achieving universal access to water sanitation by working to implement the SDGs. Bhutan joined this organization in 2017 and is currently upgrading older toilets and developing a map for accessible safe water.
Bhutan also partners with the SNV Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), a nonprofit organization that focuses on the SDGs and global poverty. SNV, Bhutan’s Public Health Engineering Division and Ministry of Health developed the Rural Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP). Their mission is to develop more water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) protocols in the Bhutan government. This program has increased sanitation to almost 99% in certain districts.
The Water for Women initiative is a program by the Australian government that works with Bhutan. The program also partners with SNV. Both organizations developed Beyond the Finish Line – Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All to improve rural water sanitation in Bhutan. This project focuses on the impact quality sanitation can have on many factors, including decreasing poverty levels and increasing gender equality.
Bhutan is making headway in its work to achieve the SDG 6. Although there is always room for improvement, Bhutan’s governmental policies, programs and its global partnerships will further aid their positive progress toward more accessible water sanitation. The drive can be heard in statements made by the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who said, “Where we live must be clean, safe, organized, and beautiful, for national integrity, national pride, and for our bright future. This too is nation-building.”
– Mia Banuelos