Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6Footnote 1 aims to ensure access to safe water sources and sanitation for all. SDG 6 goes beyond drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. It also addresses the quality and sustainability of water resources, critical to the survival of people and the planet. The 2030 Agenda recognizes the centrality of water resources to sustainable development. Improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are vital to driving progress in other areas, including health, education and poverty reduction.

Canadian ambition under Clean water and sanitation

Canada’s ambition for this goal is to ensure Canadians have access to drinking water and use it in a sustainable manner. The national target is for all of the long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on First Nation reserves to be resolved.

Canadian Indicator Framework

In collaboration with federal departments and agencies, Statistics Canada has developed the Canadian Indicator Framework (CIF) for the Sustainable Development Goals. The CIF includes 76 indicators specific to Canada, which measure progress using a set of nationally relevant, objective and comprehensive indicators. CIF indicators for SDG 6 are:

  • Number of long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves
  • Percentage of municipalities across Canada with sustained drinking water advisories
  • Water use growth rate
  • Water quality in Canadian rivers

What we are doing to improve clean water and sanitation in Canada

In Canada, the responsibility for providing clean, safe and reliable drinking water to the public generally rests with the provinces and territories, while municipalities usually oversee the day-to-day operations of the treatment facilities. The Government of Canada:

  • leads the development of the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality
  • provides scientific and technical expertise to the provincial and territorial governments
  • supports their responsibilities through shared investments in water and wastewater treatment infrastructure
  • shares responsibility for ensuring the safety of drinking water supplies on federal lands, in federal facilities, and in First Nations communities

A key component of the Government of Canada’s commitment to close the socio-economic gaps that exist between Indigenous and most non-Indigenous peoples in Canada is to address the challenges in accessing clean water and sanitation in First Nation communities. Through investments since 2016, the Government of Canada has made over $5.2 billion in commitments to First Nations to build and repair water and wastewater infrastructure and support effective management and maintenance of water systems on reserves. Investments also support water operator training and innovative First Nations-led technical service delivery models.

As of September 30, 2021, the Government of Canada has funded 796 water and wastewater projects, of which 437 are complete. These projects will benefit 583 communities serving approximately 464,000 people. Of these 796 projects, 611 are new water and wastewater treatment plants or lagoons, or renovations and upgrades to existing water and wastewater systems.

Since November 2015 and as of February 4, 2022, First Nations, with support from the Government of Canada, have lifted 127 long-term drinking water advisories and 208 short-term drinking water advisories. Initiatives are underway to address all remaining long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves.

Through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) and the Canada Community-Building Fund (CCBF), the Government of Canada is investing in provincial, territorial and municipal projects to upgrade water and wastewater treatment and distribution infrastructure. Within the first three years of ICIP, over $1.6 billion had been committed towards drinking water and wastewater projects.

Clean water is also an essential component to a healthy environment. Healthy river ecosystems rely on clean water. The quality of water and the health of rivers may be affected by how people develop and use the surrounding land. From 2017 to 2019, water quality in rivers in Canada was rated fair to excellent at 82% of the monitored sites. The Government of Canada routinely reports on the status and trends in ambient water quality. The related data is made publicly available, which helps inform decision makers, stakeholders and Canadians.


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the management of water and wastewater infrastructures, with projects delayed due to:

  • public health measures
  • contractor and human resource shortages
  • supply chain interruptions

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and First Nations continued to work together to address drinking water issues. They assessed timelines and advanced projects in ways that respected the important measures that First Nations have implemented to protect the health and well-being of their community members. ISC has worked to ensure First Nations communities facing a drinking water advisory continue to have access to safe drinking water either through bottled water or other means throughout the pandemic.

The government recognizes the importance of water and wastewater treatment facilities as core community infrastructure for municipal governments and First Nations communities. In addition, the risks of delaying or halting water and wastewater infrastructure projects due to COVID-19-related financial pressures are well understood. Therefore, the government made a one-time $2.2 billion investment to address infrastructure priorities through the Canada Community-Building Fund.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of:

  • water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare and other facilities
  • the intersections with sexual and reproductive health and rights

What Canada is doing to improve clean water and sanitation abroad

Canada supports international cooperation on sound water management through various multilateral organizations such as the G20, the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations, to align efforts and resources towards achieving all water and sanitation related SDGs.

As part of Canada’s international assistance efforts, Canada’s International Development Research Centre has invested more than $100 million over 3 decades to support research on water and water-related issues such as:

  • poverty reduction
  • improving health and sanitation
  • increasing local governments’ ability to provide sustainable services to citizens

Global Affairs Canada’s total amount of international assistance spent on water infrastructure from fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to 2019 and 2020 is $99.21 million. More than 60% of Canada’s bilateral water-related investments being in Africa.

In 2010, Canada supported United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/292. For the first time, this recognized the human right to water and sanitation, and that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.

Canada recognizes that water, sanitation and hygiene services are not often available in many schools and health care facilities in developing countries. Canada’s funding to partners, including those providing sexual, reproductive and health services, includes support for water and sanitation.

For example, from 2019 to 2023, Canada is funding HerWASH. The project is implemented by WaterAid Canada in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Pakistan. It aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescent girls by addressing their menstrual health and hygiene needs through access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene in school and health facilities.

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