WASH: UN report finds 2030 SDG targets may just be a dream

Plans in place to address water and sanitation issues, countries face hurdles in implementation, says GLAAS report 

By Swati Bhatia
Published: Thursday 29 December 2022
UN 2023 Water Conference shall take up dialogues on water for health, cooperation, sustainable development, climate resilience and environment. Photo: IStock
UN 2023 Water Conference shall take up dialogues on water for health, cooperation, sustainable development, climate resilience and environment. Photo: IStock UN 2023 Water Conference shall take up dialogues on water for health, cooperation, sustainable development, climate resilience and environment. Photo: IStock

A United Nations report has compiled critical evidence and analysed water and sanitation status from 121 countries and 23 external supporting agencies. It looked into the situation after 2019 post the COVID-19 hiatus and checked for the readiness to tackle the increasing impacts of climate change. 

The Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report by UN-Water was published December 2022. There are eight years left to achieve the UN-mandated 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-6 targets. The report will allow countries to decide the pace for the targets.

The report comes well in time for the 2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the United Nations Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018–2028), also known as the UN 2023 Water Conference. 

The conference is scheduled from March 20-24, 2023 in New York, the United States. The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution for a comprehensive midterm review of the International Decade for Action implementation in 2018.

The GLAAS data shall raise the expectations to renew commitments, pledges and actions in the UN 2023 Water Conference, which shall take up dialogues on water for health, cooperation, sustainable development, climate resilience and environment, etc.

The 2022 report covers data from the most number of countries by far.

The report covers 66 per cent of the world’s population — 94 per cent from Sub-Saharan Africa and 86 per cent from the least developed countries. More than half — 55 per cent of the countries — belong to the lower-middle-to-low income groups and over 51 per cent of participating countries had half the women participants.

Read more: World’s poorest countries need $6 billion a year for water, sanitation in healthcare centres: WaterAid

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) forms an integral part of the health systems and is even more critical after COVID-19. Countries have formal policies and plans but face a big challenge in implementing them to reach water and sanitation targets. 

Only three per cent of countries had a formal policy or a plan in place with at least 75 per cent costing plan available to implement these policies, the data showed. 

About 24 per cent had a costing plan in place. However, the financial and human resources were insufficient and 52 per cent had a formal policy in place without considering the cost factor required for policy implementation

Urban areas are receiving more focus than rural counterparts in terms of surveillance activities and using it to make informed policy decisions, the report highlighted. Also, more emphasis is being levied on drinking water quality surveillance and less on sanitation indicators in the national framework.

Almost half the respondent countries do not have any national coverage target for hand hygiene, the report said. On the other hand, more than 90 per cent of countries considered hand hygiene, drinking water, sanitation, waste management and behavioural change aspects in their national preparedness and action plan for COVID-19. 

The countries also considered addressing the vulnerable sections of their population.

Amongst the 118 respondents, only 47 per cent had developed a costing plan to implement, while only 25 per cent had adequate funding available.

The report also highlights that these policies and plans do not consider the harsh realities of climate change or developing resilient technologies and systems to address the vulnerabilities of WASH. 

Donor focus and support funding, meanwhile, has tripled since 2010 towards developing resilience for climate change. Having said this, the overall funding has decreased by 5.6 per cent from the years 2017-2020, the report showed.

Donors funding is now focusing more on the East and Southeast Asia region, which received 20 per cent versus 11 per cent funding from the previous years. Sub-Saharan Africa only received 23 per cent versus 32 per cent earlier. 

The risks and development of climate-resilient systems with rural and urban drinking water and sanitation were considered by 40-45 per cent out of 114 countries. 

But only 20 per cent and 25 per cent (out of 118 countries) agreed to a significant scale of implementation or implementation of some model sites and projects, respectively, towards climate change preparedness approaches.

Climate change will affect the global population disproportionately and hence, they should be addressed, financed and monitored to ensure equitable allocation of resources.

The figure below shows the measures taken regarding policies, funding allocation and monitoring to improve and extend drinking-water services to populations disproportionally affected by climate change in various African and Asian regions.

Measures to improve and extend drinking-water services to populations disproportionally affected by climate change in various regions and at global level (n = sample size or the number of responses received against the question)


Source: GLAAS Report 2022

Funds and resources do not reach the poor and neglected section of society despite various countries planning for it, the report said. It found that 40-45 per cent of 118 respondent countries have affordability schemes as targets, but only 25-35 per cent could afford financial programmes to support WASH services. 

Lack of implementation has slowed the pace towards national targets, with only 45 (n= 73) and 25 (n= 64) per cent of countries achieving the drinking water and sanitation targets, respectively. 

Countries like Bangladesh, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Pakistan, Gabon, Liberia, etc, need to accelerate four to eight times their historic pace to meet their national drinking water and sanitation targets by 2030. 

These countries need to look into proper utilisation and recovery of available financial resources. Less than half of these countries reported over 75 per cent utilisation of available funds in all the WASH sectors, the report said.

Read more: Half of world’s healthcare facilities lack basic hygiene services, nearly 4 billion people at risk

The ‘on-track’ success of countries like Brazil, Argentina, Thailand, etc, was attributed to proper human and financial resource allocation. The cost recovery through tariff systems was 80 per cent in these ‘on-track’ countries versus only 19 per cent in slow-paced countries.

Alongside the critical lack of human resources, availability also must be addressed. Most countries listed in the GLAAS report requiring acceleration reported a shortage of more than 75 per cent human resources for various WASH functions. 

The figure below shows the percentage of countries that have reported the gap for various WASH functions. Over 60 per cent of WASH expenditure reported in the GLAAS-2022 survey comes from households through tariffs and self-supply. However, less than half of the responding countries indicated that the tariffs are sufficient to recover at least 80 per cent of WASH operations and maintenance costs.

Percentage of countries that reported having 75 per cent or more of the human resources needed for drinking-water and sanitation (n= sample size)

 Source: GLAAS Report 2022

The involvement of all the stakeholders in the WASH sectors is imperative for the sustainability of the services. Lack of human and financial resources also affect the participation of users and communities as is desired under SDG goal 6.b.1. 

Only 17 per cent out of 106 countries indicated adequate financial resources (availability of more than 75 per cent) required community and user participation for rural drinking water and sanitation. Upper and upper-middle income groups accounted for 75 per cent of countries.

Less than 40 per cent of countries have national plans to address human resource challenges in the sector. This shall require adequate capacity building and training of professionals to meet the needs and carry out the functions. The countries reported a lack of adequately trained professionals, with only 20 per cent reporting adequacy. 

Gender imbalance also needs to be considered as women are an essential pillar in the WASH sector as they are the most affected strata in the WASH domain. The countries also need to implement and monitor the measures to bring more involvement of women and girls despite having plans and policies. 

Regulatory authorities are also not performing their duties to ensure timely data collection and recommending suitable actions for implementation, the report highlighted. About two-thirds, that is, 60-66 per cent of the respondent countries reported using data for decision-making for drinking water and sanitation. 

Read more: Toilet inside, defecation outside: Govt missing the mark?

The report also identifies the barriers towards using these data as mentioned in figure 3. 

The way forward was highlighted by the report. The countries should at least manage the available financial resources and utilise them completely to achieve the desired targets by 2030. Some countries have to multiply efforts now several folds as they lag behind the targets.

A timely review of plans, targets and progress is required. The report clearly shows that with the current pace, the 2030 agenda is only a dream.

Note: All the numbers in the report are based on the number of respondents for the question. 

Challenges towards implementation of WASH in countries.

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.