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The Nexus between Sustainable Development, the HDI, and WASH: Scaling from a Global Level to Morocco

Eleanor Frist

High Atlas Foundation

Currently, the WHO reports that 1 in 3 people do not have access to clean drinking water. This statistic is a problem as the UN defines water as “the core of sustainable development and critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems, and for human survival itself.” The importance of water to a thriving society is rooted in sustainable development — development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable development encompasses fields such as renewable energy, carbon offsets, and water access. It is the phrase that has taken the international development community by storm.

There is a strong link between sustainable development and human development in an international context. Human development expands the quality of human life by increasing equitable opportunities for all and allowing people to choose how to act with these opportunities. One way to measure human development is the human development index (HDI), which was developed in 1990 to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for development in a country—not solely economic growth. HDI is calculated using the following metrics: one's health (life expectancy at birth), education (expected years of schooling), and standard of living (GNI per capita). As of 2021, the world HDI is .732. Morocco's HDI is .683, which ranks the country 123rd in the world. There is room for improvement in the Moroccan HDI, which is best addressed through increasing access to clean water.

Clean water means having acceptable quality in terms of physical, chemical, and bacteriological parameters so that it can be safely used for drinking and cooking. Furthermore, this article encompasses both hygiene and sanitation with potable water, as it is essential to sustaining clean water sources. Today, the WHO has found that 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and 3 billion lack basic hand washing facilities. However, since 2000, 2.1 billion people have gained access to basic sanitation practices and infrastructure. While there has been an increase in sanitation programs, many parts of the world are unable to safely manage their waste products, due to a lack of infrastructure or cultural norms surrounding toilet usage. Finally, the report reveals that 2 billion people still lack basic sanitation, among whom 7 out of 10 live in rural areas. In Morocco, the World Bank finds that as of 2020, 80% of the population used safely managed drinking water services, which is reflective of an overall upward trend. However, the lack of potable water, including hygiene and sanitation infrastructure and awareness, is still pervasive within communities in Morocco —especially rural communities (only 60% use safely managed drinking water).

Clean water (including hygiene and sanitation) has been shown to impact all three branches of the HDI, by increasing life expectancy, increasing school attendance, and promoting a higher standard of living by alleviating poverty. The emphasis here will be placed on increasing life expectancy. Providing clean water reduces diarrhea and other waterborne diseases in communities in developing and developed countries. This fact is essential, as children under the age of five are at risk of these diseases from drinking water. The death toll from biological contamination of drinking water is 400 children (under the age of five) every hour. Increasing access to improved water sources decreases infant mortality by 1.14 deaths per 1000 infants (the relationship remains constant with sanitation analysis, with deaths decreasing by 1.66/1000). Therefore, by increasing access to potable water, one can reduce infant mortality and child deaths, increasing life expectancy and HDI.

A way to successfully improve water quality conditions are Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs, which have been successfully implemented by both the IFRC and UNICEF. In 2018, UNICEF ran a campaign to support WASH in Moroccan schools through a dual focus on infrastructure and awareness. They were able to complete the construction of latrines in 25 primary schools in rural areas and suburban communities in the Sous-Massa regions, as well as raise community awareness through hygiene campaigns. By implementing WASH campaigns, UNICEF has improved water quality and access in Morocco— yet their work is not done. WASH programs must be continued in Morocco to increase quality of life of Moroccan citizens. In conclusion, sustainably developed WASH programs are essential to increasing the HDI for countries, as it impacts all three spheres of influence that are used to calculate the HDI.

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