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The Sustainability Series

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Photo By: Unsplash


Pearl Patterson, Staff Writer 

Joni Mitchell wrote in her song “Big Yellow Taxi”, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” This tune is appropriately about how you can’t recognize the natural beauty around you until it’s gone (and turned into a parking lot, in the case of this song). But the phrase appropriately fits the relationship that many people in developed countries have with water.

It’s easy to forget about water. At least it is for those people who live in an environment where water is easily accessible, clean, and plentiful. 

For those of us that live on the campus of this college, for example, we can just walk down the hallway of our dorm and fill up our water bottle with water that is clean and safe to drink. The county of Erie provides sanitary water to all of our homes and plumbing systems that we can always expect to come flowing out when we turn on our faucets. But there are many places in the world where people do not have these privileges. In fact, it is not a problem exclusive to developing countries. On the United States drought monitor, the current most severe droughts are in the south of the Mid-West, the South-East, and in Texas which are labeled as “extreme drought” areas. But there are no places classified as “exceptional drought” in the United States. In certain areas of Tanzania, for example, most of the water is collected from holes dug in the ground and the water that emerges from these pits is invariably contaminated. The time required to collect this water will often deprive children of the time needed to receive an education. Instances like these are a reminder of how interconnected all of the Sustainability Goals are. Quality Education (Goal #5) cannot be achieved for certain young people in Tanzania without readily available sources of clean water.  

On a global scale, the United Nations reports improvements to this problem, noting that from 2000 to 2015 the global percentage of those who have access to “safely managed drinking water services” have increased from 61% to 71%. However, the UN states on their official SDG website that it is unlikely that most countries will reach full integration of sanitary and sustainable water resources by 2030. Water is the singularly most fundamental resource available to people, aside from oxygen for respiration, making Goal #6 arguably the most fundamental SGD goal.  

The Erie Coke Corporation poses an immediate threat to the cleanliness of water in Erie county and the surrounding areas. The Corporation is currently facing charges for Erie’s Department of Environmental Protection. In an article from Go Erie published in July of 2019, author Madeline O’Neill wrote, “The DEP said wastewater containing ‘benzene and naphthalene, ammonia and cyanide,’ among other substances, leaked onto the ground and created a danger of pollution to Lake Erie”. This is to say that if protecting clean water is something you’re passionate about, there are issues in your community that you can tackle. The source of the water sanitation and scarcity issues are in the hands of large organizations and corporations and tangible change can only be made through policy change and political action.