The Sustainable Development Goals, pledging to provide universal access to adequate sanitation and to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater being discharged into nature, were jointly adopted by 193 countries in 2015.

The vast majority of wastewater, as high as 80%, across the globe is discharged untreated into our waterways, creating environmental, health and climate-related hazards. This results in millions of people getting sick and even dying every year, so it is evident that a rapid transformation and significant investment is urgently needed to achieve these ambitious goals.

Around 2.4 billion people across the globe, that is approximately 33% of the entire global population, are still without sanitation facilities. Currently there are around 946 million people still defecating in the open and in excess of 842 000 people in low- and middle-income countries dying annually from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

The economic impacts of inadequate sanitation are huge and massively impact on other sectors such as health, education and tourism. Estimates of annual economic loss by the World Bank are that around 260 billion USD are lost annually due to poor sanitation. Wastewater treatment efforts between 2000 and 2014 in China resulted in the number of treatment facilities in cities increasing from 480 to 3720 – this means that an additional 36 million citizens per year are now receiving wastewater treatment.

Bold policies and investments in other countries have also achieved transformational change. The impact of the EC Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in England and Wales saw investments of £9.2 billion in sewerage services between 1990 and 2000.

Although much progress has been made since 1990, there is still a lot to be done to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need a total paradigm shift in our approach to wastewater and sanitation, and this must cut across multiple interlinked areas so that a transition to the circular economy is enabled, for it is only in this way that we will be able to unlock the potential of the cities that will soon become home to two thirds of the global population to drive sustainable sanitation and wastewater management.

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