SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation

Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” a goal which presents a significant challenge for any country to reach (with 40% of people globally impacted by water scarcity), including Thailand.1,2 Progress towards SDG 6 is being measured against 8 targets and 11 indicators, which can be seen in Table 1 below, and which if successfully reached, will signify Thailand’s success in achieving SDG 6.

Table 1: Targets and Indicators for SDG 6

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is the objective of SDG 6. Source: UNSDG Knowledge platform: SDG 6 Targets and Indicators.
6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all6.1.1 Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services
6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations 6.2.1 Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a hand-washing facility with soap and water
6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally6.3.1 Proportion of wastewater safely treated
6.3.2 Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality
6.4 Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality6.4.1 Change in water-use efficiency over time
6.4.2 Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources
6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate6.5.1 Degree of integrated water resources management implementation (0-100)
6.5.2 Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation
6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes6.6.1 Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time
6.A By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies 6.A.1 Amount of water- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of a government-coordinated spending plan
6.B Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management6.B.1 Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management

These targets are designed to be holistic, encompassing issues that extend beyond simply access to water, and that also work to address issues such as water quality (target 6.3) and water usage efficiency (target 6.4).  To achieve all of these targets, investments will be required in infrastructure, sanitation facilities and encouraging hygiene “at every level”.3 Mitigating water scarcity, especially in the face of the growing challenges posed by climate change, will also require the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, wetlands, forests and mountain environments.

SDG 6 Situation Overview

Fortunately for Thailand, the country has been endowed with substantial water resources. The country receives, on average, 1,374 mm of precipitation yearly, which is significantly higher than the global average of 990 mm.4 As a result, currently, water supply issues are less pressing than those related to water management and ensuring sufficient water quality, which look to be the most imposing challenges facing Thailand in their effort to reach SDG 6.

Figure 1. Thailand’s water security strengths, weaknesses and water development potential5

As of 2017, Thailand has already taken steps towards achieving a number of SDG 6’s indicators.  98% of the population of Thailand has access to “improved drinking water” and 93% has access to improved sanitation.6 In line with this, the Thai Government’s 2017 Voluntary National Review (VNR) reported that “almost 100% of households have access to safe and affordable drinking water, as well as sanitation facilities.”7 Additionally, Thailand has been able to reduce infant mortality rates and reduce water-borne diseases as a result of policies which require all levels of government to provide clean water and sanitation in their jurisdictions, and to reach a level of quality in line with national standards for drinking water quality.8

Figure 2. Individual water consumption per day in Thailand.9

It is important to note though that access to water and sanitation is considered a human right, and thus, despite a large proportion of the Thai population having access to drinking water, the fact that some Thai citizens do not, means they remain unable to realize their basic human rights.10 The SDGs aim to “leave no one behind” and thus a focus on disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as Thailand’s indigenous populations, in combination with efforts to monitor and reduce inequalities in drinking water services, would assist in ensuring efforts to achieve SDG 6 are directed where they are most needed.11 The need for this focus is recognized by the Thai government, who are “doubling” their efforts to overcome water and sanitation challenges in rural areas.12

Thailand faces additional challenges in ensuring a supply of clean drinking water into the future.  Despite high levels of drinking water access currently, deforestation and climate change, in combination with growing demand for water from industry, is leading to increasing water scarcity.13 This also is tied to water quality issues, as chemicals used in agriculture, industrial waste and untreated sewage currently flow into many of Thailand’s waterways.

Wastewater treatment is another issue of concern for Thailand currently. Rivers in urban areas, especially the lower Chao Phraya River, where Bangkok is located, are easily polluted as a result of factory discharges.14 This includes pesticides, fertilizers, urban sewage, and pharmaceutical residues. Just 15% of the total volume of consumed water consists of treated waste water, a figure seen as low, and which has prompted the United Nations to urge the Government “to make water sanitation a key focus for investment.”15 Currently, there are 100 plus wastewater treatment plants and more than 1,500 sewage and waste management plants, with plans currently in place for another 19 treatment plants to be constructed. This is expected to lead to an increase of 10% in the wastewater treatment capacity of Thailand on a yearly basis in the years ahead.

Figure 3. Late King Rama 9’s royal speech on water resources management.16

Agricultural challenges also must be overcome in the effort to reach SDG 6. Only one sixth of Thailand’s farmland is currently irrigated, with this land largely being located in Central Thailand.  Farmers outside of this region face challenges currently due to uneven rainfall and the threat posed by drought.17 Grassroots efforts to improve irrigation are ongoing and the Royal Irrigation Department, alongside a number of NGOs, are working to more even distribute irrigation infrastructure across Thailand. These efforts are ongoing.

3 pillars of water management in Thailand

Planning is underway to overcome these challenges and to mitigate the threats posed by growing challenges such as climate change. The Government of Thailand’s Water Resource Management Strategic Plan 2015 – 2026 is a core part of the strategy to develop a sustainable water management plan in Thailand.18 It strives to implement a holistic approach both in terms of water-use efficiency and water resource infrastructure to ensure that Thailand can meet her future demand.

Table 2: Strategies of Thailand's water resources management

Strategies Description
Management of water for consumption
Developing water supply in village and urban areas; improving existing waterworks system; expanding school water networks to cover nearby communities; ensuring quality and affordable consumption of water throughout the country.
Water security for production sector
Ensuring sufficient water budget for sustainability and security of agricultural production and industrial sectors, and other economic sectors; developing and increasing water irrigational areas to accommodate economic development in the EEC and special economic zones in other regions; developing non-irrigational water sources; restoring natural water sources, etc. Major projects to be implemented during 2019-2022 are water budget development plan for the EEC, increase of Bhumibol Dam’s water budget, increase of Lam Takhong Dam’s water budget, and water diversion projects for Mekong, Loey, Chi, and Mun Rivers. These projects are aimed to enhance the country’s water budget security.
Flood and inundation management
Alleviating flood damages in urban and major economic areas; dredging primary waterways; enhancing water drainage capacity; developing 12 water containment areas around the Chao Phraya River basin; clearing waterway obstructions in the South and other parts of the country; developing provincial water drainage plans, etc.
Water quality management
Ensuring satisfactory level of water quality; developing wastewater management system in 201 areas; enhancing capacity of existing wastewater management systems; reducing volumes of wastewater in Chao Phraya, Tha Chin, Pasak, Mun, and Chi River basins; recycling treated wastewater; rehabilitating rivers and canals throughout the country, etc.
Rehabilitation of forest watersheds and degraded areas
Balancing the ecosystem through rehabilitating of forest watersheds; preventing soil erosion in the areas with steep slopes; developing forest watershed conservation plan, etc.
Management and administration
Establishing and systematizing water-related organizations, law, database, and publicity; enhancing capacity of national water management; promoting public participation and awareness; evaluating operational performances; developing related technologies and innovations; establishing hydro informatics data center as an ad-hoc center in case of water-related emergencies, etc.

Figure 4. Three pillars of water management in Thailand19

Specially, according to the Government, the Water Resource Management Strategic Plan is working to:

  • Solve the water resource problems that cause severe socio-economic impacts
  • To integrate water management in an appropriate way
  • To balance economic development and environmental conservation
  • To extend the existing Basin Strategic Plan Study and Action Plan20

This plan has been created in line with The Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy, and strives to promote a holistic, integrated approach to water management, while working towards the attainment of other SDGs in parallel.21

The late King himself also founded the Utokapat Foundation under Royal Patronage in 2011, specially to deal with development issues related to water. By 2016 more than 600 villages had integrated the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy to guide their water development efforts through collaboration with the Utokapat Foundation.22

The Government has also worked to mitigate the effects of drought on rural areas and agricultural communities.  For example, in 2016, during a period of severe drought, the government worked to ensure water resources were managed so they reached areas where it was most urgently needed, they provided farmers with training about efficient uses of water, and they encouraged the introduction of crops that use less water.23

Figure 5. Impacts of the flood in Mekong region24

Civil Society’s Response

Civil society groups have acknowledged Government efforts to manage water resources more sustainably, but many argue there remains room for improvement. Specifically, calls have been made for additional consultations with local communities when implementing water management projects, to improve wastewater treatment, to combat threats facing key watersheds and to improve public education about water conservation issues.25 They have also brought attention to the fact that a growing population, continued economic growth and the looming threats posed by climate change could make sustainable water management significantly more difficult in the coming years.26 Accordingly, they are pressing the government to plan ahead to prevent water crises from emerging in the future.

Rankings of Thailand’s progress to date supports both the government’s view that substantial progress has already occurred towards achieving SDG 6, as well as the critiques of civil society that significant room for improvement remains. Thailand’s efforts towards reaching SDG 6 have been ranked “yellow” by SDG Index, a project working to monitor SDG progress globally. The scale they use ranges from green, meaning the SDG has been achieved, to yellow, orange and red, each indicating increasing distance from the SDG being achieved.  Thailand’s yellow status was determined based on the fact that access to improved water and sanitation remains short of 100%, although freshwater makes up 13.1 % of total renewable water resources27 and imported groundwater depletion is 2.9 m3/year per capita, both scores given “green” status by the index.

Efficiently managing water and working to achieve all of SDG 6’s indicators, will help to make sure resilient, sustainable development takes place in Thailand and that water scarcity does not become a greater concern moving forwards. Thailand, as well as development partners and the international community, must cooperate to share technologies and to ensure proper management of joint water resources, an effort which the SDGs are ideally placed to help facilitate.28

Read more about Thailand’s Civil Society’s response to the SDG’s.


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