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  • Julissa Coplin

UN Sustainable Development Goals: Reduced Inequalities


The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are a series of 17 goals involving environmental and human rights issues set to be reached by 2030. The tenth goal, “Reduced Inequalities”, focuses on achieving equality within and among nations on all fronts, including economic, social, and institutional equality.

Water equity is central to achieving this SDG, as it ensures that people, regardless of socioeconomic status, always have access to Water and are entitled to Water as a human right. A significant inequality among nations is Water access and infrastructure (National Geographic Society, 2022). Water access continues to be a marker of injustice and inequality in regions such as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (National Geographic Society, 2022). Addressing Water inequities is the primary step to building a foundation for global equality.

Overview of SDG #10

The scope of this SDG covers a wide range of discussions on global inequality. It addresses important indicators that help to measure which areas widen gaps in equality.

Evidence of inequality can be present in multiple forms, such as refugee/migrant figures, war and violent conflicts, income disparities, poverty rates, community health threats, gender inequality, and systemic discrimination (UN SDG Report, 2022). More specific indicators of inequalities include GDP per capita and GDP growth rate, child mortality rate, proportion of population with access to electricity, sanitation services, or internet services, and unemployment rates (UN SDG Report, 2022). By accurately measuring these indicators, nations can pinpoint needs for improvement and make calls for increased efforts in any of these areas with the aim of living in a more equal world. Given the broad nature of this SDG, many other SDGs are embedded in discussions of inequalities, such as SDG #1: No Poverty, SDG #4: Quality Education, and SDG #5: Gender Equality. The intersectional nature of inequality discourse is crucial to a holistic understanding of how to combat them.

The UN outlines a series of 10 targets aiming at narrowing the inequality gap. For instance, target 10.1 states that the world must “progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population at a higher rate than the national average”, which works to tackle economic inequality between developed and developing nations (UN DESA, 2022a). Target 10.4 urges nations to “adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage, and social protection policies'' conducive to social equality. Some measurable indicators for target 10.4 include the labor share of GDP and the “redistributive impact of fiscal policy” (UN DESA, 2022a). All targets focus on ensuring countries are equipped with the tools and resources necessary to build adequate social policy, generate economic growth, and meet their domestic and international equality goals.

Equality is essential for a sustainable future as it offers the social and economic opportunity for countries to strengthen their environmental plans, goals, and infrastructure. The United Nations recognizes that “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development” (UN DESA, 2022b). It is imperative that all stakeholders act in “collaborative partnerships” to obtain a global standard of equality (UN DESA, 2022b). If nations do not possess equal opportunities for development, they do not reach their full economic and social potential and thus a global standard of equality cannot be reached. Fundamentally, the “achievement of human potential” is the gateway to creating universal sustainable living (UN DESA, 2022b).

Global Progress Towards SDG #10: UN SDG Report 2022

According to the 2022 UN Sustainable Development Report, released on July 7th, 2022, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recent war/violent conflicts between nations have set back previous progress for reducing inequalities.

COVID-19 has had noteworthy effects on societal attitudes towards climate action/climate resiliency. It has also resulted in more production of single-use plastic waste and in a reallocation of energy and resources away from national goals pertaining to social and economic advancement (Cho, 2020). In addition, the pandemic widened the gap in global income inequality. In the past two decades, significant strides were made in narrowing the income inequality gap. Between-country income inequality decreased by 16.4 per cent in 2008-2013, exemplifying a promising future of economic progress and stability for developing nations (UN SDG Report, 2022). Before the pandemic, it was predicted that income inequality would again decrease by another 2.6 percent in 2017-2021; however, between-country income inequality rose 1.2 per cent, showing a backwards trend in progress relative to the previous two decades (UN SDG Report, 2022). These numbers are alarming in that the pandemic can continue to jeopardize advancement in environmental, social, and economic policy all around the world.

Recent violent conflicts in Ukraine have added to the already high number of global refugees. In mid-2021, there was an estimated global figure of 24.5 million refugees fleeing violent conflict, persecution/discrimination, and violation of human rights in their home countries (UN SDG Report, 2022). Ongoing conflict in the Northern African and West Asian regions continue to produce a high number of refugees seeking asylum in other nations. In 2022, the war in Ukraine displaced about 8 million Ukrainians and forced 6 million people to migrate. Globally, the number of refugees increased by 44 per cent between 2015 and 2021 (UN SDG Report, 2022).

Both violent conflict and the ongoing pandemic are not conducive to the goal of creating a more equal world. Equality within and among nations is essential in that it offers nations the opportunity to build healthy relationships and make further strides in economic and social advancement. When all nations are on an equal social and economic playing field, the opportunities to work together to combat issues, such as climate change and Water insecurity, are endless (UN DESA, 2022b).

SDG #10 and Water

As there are inequalities in income, health outcomes, and poverty rates within and among nations, there is also inequality in Water safety and Water access (National Geographic Society, 2022). Water poverty is prevalent in Water scarce and Water stressed regions around the world. A lack of Water security continues to be an indicator of poverty, food deserts, and environmental injustice. Water is needed for agriculture, sanitation infrastructure, and good health. Insecure access to Water perpetuates economic insecurity and poor community health, thus trapping civilians in a cycle of poverty (UN DESA, 2022b).

For nations that do have sufficient Water resources, Water inequity may still persist through distributional failures that disproportionately impact women and people of color. For example, in the United States, “race is the strongest predictor of Water and sanitation access” (US Water Alliance, 2019). Women, especially those in historically marginalized/vulnerable communities, are “often responsible for managing household Water needs”, thus requiring women to spend more time gathering clean Water for their families (US Water Alliance, 2019). This suggests that racial and gender discrimination is embedded in the distributional aspect of Water access, which do not reflect Water equity principles.

Ensuring that basic necessities are met, such as adequate sanitation, climate resiliency, and drinking Water access, without the presence of discrimination, is key to setting the bedrock for equality. Achieving distributive justice in the allocation of Water resources affords nations the necessary foundation to strive for further equality in other areas in need of attention, such as income or health inequality. Water security and Water access in turn can “preserve mangroves” and result in “clean Water downstreams”, thus being an efficient path forward to conserve the environment (Schleifer & Otto, 2019). Wastewater treatment and sanitation services also help poor communities by decreasing the risk of contracting water-borne diseases, thus resulting in good community health. High-quality health standards set an even stronger foundation to lift people out of poverty (Schleifer & Otto, 2019). Making certain that clean Water is distributed equally to civilians is the fundamental basis for equality in every nation.

Water&’s Role

At Water&, we strongly believe that Water equity is the foundation needed to achieve all UN sustainable development goals. Our definition of Water equity has four pillars: equal Water access, Water justice for historically marginalized groups, climate adaptation and resilience, and Water as a guaranteed human right. People in developing countries and in Water-stressed/Water scarce regions are not guaranteed this right. Water& is committed to narrowing the gaps in Water equity through policy reform, art, and community building. Equality starts with clean Water for all.


Cho, Renee (2020). COVID-19’s long-term effects on climate change —for better or worse. Columbia Climate School. Accessed 30 Jul 2022.

National Geographic Society (2022). Water inequality: Lack of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation effects countries around the globe. National Geographic. Accessed 30 Jul 2022.

Schleifer, L. & Otto, B. (2019). Water can exacerbate inequality — or it can help solve it. World Resources Institute. Accessed 1 Aug 2022.

United Nations (2022). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022. United Nations Statistics Division Development Data and Outreach Branch. Accessed 27 Jul 2022.

United Nations DESA (2022a). Reduce inequality within and among countries: Targets and Indicators. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Accessed 30 Jul 2022.

United Nations DESA (2022b). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.

United States Water Alliance (2019). Closing the water access gap in the United States: A national action plan. U.S Water Alliance. Accessed 31 July 2022.


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