Investments aligned with this strategic goal aim to expand access by improving the quantity, reliability, and safety of water supplied by water service providers. This includes expanding pipes, applying operational efficiencies, and implementing green technology.
The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, a starter kit of metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.
Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation underpins many of the challenges related to health faced by households in poverty. Moreover, families in the bottom income quintiles often spend more than 20% of their income on water, further exacerbating the cycle of poverty (1, 2). Today, two billion people lack access to safe household drinking water (3). Nearly one million people die each year from diseases related to lack of water, sanitation, or hygiene (4), and every two minutes a child dies from a water-related disease (5).
Access to safe water improves household health and helps prevent the spread of infectious disease. After decades of underinvestment in water infrastructure to source, treat, and deliver water, water utilities and service providers in low- and middle-income countries struggle to maintain infrastructure, sustain operations, and keep pace with population growth in towns and cities.
Investments in piped water that aim to increase its quantity, quality, reliability, safety, and availability can:
According to the World Health Organization, two billion people, or 29% of the world’s population, do not have access to safely managed water, defined as water that is available on premises, free from contamination, and available when needed (6). More than 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is contaminated by fecal matter, putting them at risk for water- and sanitation-related diseases, while 159 million people depend on untreated surface water, including lakes and rivers (3). The World Economic Forum recently rated access to water as the fourth-greatest global risk in terms of its impact on society (7).
A universal challenge among water service providers is the considerable difference between the amount of water entering the distribution system and the amount of water that is billed to customers, which is termed non-revenue water. The World Bank estimates that roughly 45 million cubic meters of water are lost daily as non-revenue water, enough to serve nearly 200 million people. The total estimated cost to utility providers of non-revenue water is, conservatively, USD 14 billion per year (8).
Low-income households: Time spent gathering water or seeking safe sanitation leads to billions of dollars in lost economic opportunities on top of losses from poorer health outcomes. An estimated USD 260 billion is lost globally each year due to insufficient basic water and sanitation (9). Safe water and sanitation at home through piped water service gives low-income families more time to pursue education and work opportunities. Meanwhile, households that already have piped water on premises can benefit from improved reliability and quality of existing service. In general, more low-income households lack safely managed access to water than wealthier households; investments that target inclusive or “pro-poor” access can benefit these families.
Women and girls: Women and girls overwhelmingly bear primary responsibility for collecting water, doing so for 80% of all households worldwide with water off-premises (10). Altogether, women and girls spend 200 million hours every day collecting water (11), taking time away from income-generating activities, school, or caring for family.
Children: Children often collect water for their families, taking time away from school and play. Evidence from Yemen and Pakistan indicates that a one-hour reduction in time children spend collecting water would increase these countries’ respective school enrollment rates by 8–9% and 18–19% (12).
Water service providers: The World Bank estimates that 32 billion cubic meters of treated and distributed water is lost annually as non-revenue water (for example, from leaky pipes), half of which is lost in developing countries. Water utilities incur major financial costs treating and pumping water that then leaves the system before being sold (13). Reducing the amount of non-revenue water would boost revenues for utilities and improve water quality and customer satisfaction.
The climate: Non-revenue water also contributes to climate change. Water treatment and distribution require an enormous amount of energy, the production of which typically emits harmful CO2. Green technology can reduce water withdrawal, lower CO2 emissions, and reduce water pollution. Minimizing leaks saves both water and energy (14).
The geographic coverage of safely managed drinking water varies widely across countries, ranging from 6% to 100% coverage. Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa has the least coverage of safely managed water access (just 12% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population), followed by Central and South Asia (3).
An estimated 55% of the rural population and 85% of the urban population worldwide use safely managed WASH services (3). Financing gaps are global, with more than 80% of countries reporting insufficient funds to meet their national water goals (15). While only a third of people living in rural areas use safely managed drinking water, urban areas are expected to absorb all of the world’s population growth over the next four decades (16). The vast majority of people at that point will live in overcrowded slums with inadequate water services (16). Urban resources and planning will face mounting challenges in keeping up with this growth rate, especially given climate change. In major cities like Cape Town, South Africa, and Chennai, India, the demand for water often exceeds the supply. Increasing water stress and drought will make it critical to improve the efficiency of water management, including repairs to leaky pipes.
The world’s needs for safely managed water and sanitation cannot be met by current financing, which falls short by USD 89 billion per year (18). New sources of capital will be critical to achieve universal access to safe drinking water. This gap in investment only includes the costs of constructing new infrastructure, not the ongoing costs of infrastructure's operation and maintenance.
To close the gap in financing for water service providers, organizations investing in projects that improve water infrastructure and management can contribute toward solutions by:
According to the World Health Organization (6), of the two billion people who lack safely managed water, 1.4 billion have a water service sometimes or always contaminated by fecal matter or chemical contamination, 206 million require 30 minutes or more to collect water, 435 million take water from unprotected wells and springs, and 144 million collect untreated surface water from sources such as lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.
Improvements to water supply infrastructure and service delivery can reach a large majority of the two billion people that lack access to safely managed water. The number of people benefiting from specific investments depends on multiple contextual factors, including the size of an individual investment, the costs required, and the population size (current and potential) serviced by a water service provider.
Access to safe water can protect and save lives and help families break the cycle of poverty. Safe water piped directly to a household turns time spent collecting water into time saved. Examples of impact from improved water infrastructure include the following:
Impact risk factors identified by experts as material for this Strategic Goal include:
Furthermore, price may become a constraint for low-income consumers, especially if private sector involvement leads to higher tariffs or connection fees. On the other hand, tariffs that are set too low may not cover the service provider’s operating costs. Investors and investees should therefore thoroughly study the local market and understand consumers’ willingness to pay.
These risk factors could lead service providers to remain undercapitalized, operationally inefficient, wasteful of energy and water resources, or a combination of these characteristics. The investment may fail to provide households with safely managed access.
Khmer Water Supply Holding (KWSH) owns and operates micro-piped-water utilities with unrealized potential in rural Cambodia. KWSH’s strategy is to leverage its centralized technical expertise, fundraising capacity, and business acumen across a portfolio of stations to increase their potential and reach, thereby facilitating affordable access to safe water for neighboring communities. The company was established in 2013 as a greenfield investment by Insitor Partners in partnership with a local consulting firm. Since then, it has received USD 4.6 million in additional investment from other investors and foundations. Today, KWSH has four utilities in its portfolio with consolidated reach of 25,000 households (more than 100,000 individuals).
The Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG) financed the Kigali Bulk Water PPP Project, a large-scale water treatment plant that will supply clean water to up to 500,000 customers in Rwanda, with blended financing (USD 40 million loan) for the USD 61 million plant. Kigali Water Limited is one of the first water projects in sub-Saharan Africa to be developed through a public-private partnership (PPP). The invested finance gave the Rwandan government the security it needed to proceed with a project that would be affordable for everyone, including the end users. The project illustrates how private investors can reduce risk for local and national governments and private service providers.
In Kenya, community-based organizations (CBOs) supply many peri-urban and rural areas with drinking water. CBOs operate some 1,200 small piped water systems throughout the country, serving 3.7 million people. Much of this infrastructure is run-down as a result of underinvestment. To address capital constraints, a blended finance program, initiated in 2006, combines commercial debt with subsidies. Since the program’s inception, K-Rep Bank (now Sidian Bank) has lent USD 1 million to 12 CBOs, nine of which have completed implementation of their projects and have received subsidies (as of 2011).
The Development Bank of Southern Africa’s (DBSA) Climate Finance Facility (CFF) is a specialized lending facility designed to increase private investment in climate-related infrastructure projects in South Africa, which faces significant challenges in climate mitigation and adaptation. Eligible projects include those in energy and water efficiency. The CFF is the first time the “green bank” model has been applied to an emerging market. This landmark facility offers substantial proof-of concept value to middle- and low-income countries seeking the considerable private investment they will require to meet the commitments laid out under the Paris Agreement. The CFF raised an initial USD 110 million, with DBSA and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as the two anchor funders (20).
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Tom Burgess, Carolynne Wheeler, Tim Brewer, Dan Jones, James Wicken, Helder Samo Gudo, Behailu Shiferaw, Basile Ouedraogo, Pragya Gupta, Nitya Jacob et al. Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water. London: WaterAid, March 2016.
WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2017.
World Health Organization. “Sanitation.” Fact sheet, June 14, 2019. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation.
WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment. New York: UNICEF, June 2015.
World Health Organization. “Drinking-Water.” Fact sheet, June 14, 2019. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water.
Aengus Collins et al. The Global Risks Report (14th edition). Geneva: World Economic Forum, January 2019.
Bill Kingdom, Roland Liemberger, and Marin Philippe. “The Challenge of Reducing Non-Revenue Water (NRW) in Develop Countries—How the Private Sector Can Help—A Look at Performance-Based Service Contracting.” Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Board Discussion Paper No. 8, Washington, DC, World Bank, December 2006.
Guy Hutton. Global Costs and Benefits of Drinking-Water Supply and Sanitation Interventions to Reach the MDG Target and Universal Coverage. Geneva: World Health Organization, May 2012.
UNICEF and WHO. Safely Managed Drinking Water Services: Thematic Report on Drinking Water. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2017.
Jay P. Graham, Mitsuaki Hirai, and Seung-Sup Kim. “An Analysis of Water Collection Labor among Women and Children in 24 Sub-Saharan African Countries.” PLoS ONE 11, no. 6 (June 2, 2016): e0155981.
Gayatri Koolwal and Dominique van de Walle. “Access to Water, Women’s Work, and Child Outcomes.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 61, no. 2 (January 2013): 369–405.
Bill Kingdom, Gerard Soppe, and Jemima Sy. “What Is Non-Revenue Water? How Can We Reduce It for Better Water Service?” Water Blog (World Bank), August 31, 2016. https://blogs.worldbank.org/water/what-non-revenue-water-how-can-we-reduce-it-better-water-service.
“Buildings and Cities: Water Distribution,” Project Drawdown. https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities/water-distribution. Accessed September 12, 2019.
Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLASS). Financing Universal Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Under the Sustainable Development Goals: UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2017.
UN Water. “Water and Urbanization.” Fact sheet. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/urbanization/.
June J. Cheng, Corinne J. Schuster-Wallace, Susan Watt, Bruce K. Newbold, and Andrew Mente. “An Ecological Quantification of the Relationships between Water, Sanitation and Infant, Child, and Maternal Mortality.” Environmental Health 11 (January 2012): 4.
Guy Hutton and Mili Chachyamma Varughese. “The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.” World Bank Water and Sanitation Program Technical Paper 103171, Washington, DC, January 2016.
OECD. Making Blended Finance Work for Water and Sanitation: Unlocking Commercial Finance for SDG 6. OECD Studies on Water. Paris: OECD Publishing, August 2019.
Convergence Blended Global Finance, DBSA, and Coalition for Green Capital. “Design Grant Case Study: Climate Finance Facility.” June 2019.
This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.
Bivins, Aaron W., Summer, Tren, Kumpel, Emily, Howard, Guy, Cumming Olivery, Ross, Ian, Nelson, Kara, et al. “Detailed Review of a Recent Publication: Intermittent water supply jeopardizes water quality and costs users and utilities money.” Issue #7 (2017)
Dearden, Kirk, Brennan, T. Alana, Behrman R. Jere, Schott, Whitney, Crookston T., Benjamin, Humphries, Debbie, Penny, Mary, et. al. “Does household access to improved water and sanitation in infancy and childhood predict better vocabulary test performance in Ethiopian, Indian, Peruvian and Vietnamese cohort studies.“BMJ Open (2017).
Galian, Sebastian, Gonzalex-Rozada, Schargrodsky Ernesto. “Water Expansions in Shantytowns: Health and Savings.” Inter-American Development Banco Paper #R-527. (2007).
Kosec, Katrina. “The Child Health Implications of Privatizing Africa’s Urban Water Supply.” International Food Policy Research Institute. Discussion Paper 01269. (2013).
Xu, Lixin C., Zhang Jing. “Water Quality, Brawn, and Education: The Rural Drinking Water Program in China.” World Bank Group Policy Research Working Paper 7054 (2014).
Building and Cities Water Distribution, Project Drawdown, 6 Sept. 2019 www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities/water-distribution)
Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.
Organizations should footnote all assumptions used.
(Households connected to piped water x Client Household Size [PI4548]) / (Total population under utility's nominal responsibility)
(People with access to a public water point) / (Total population under utility's nominal responsibility)
(Water Provided for Sale: Total [PI9468] - Units/Volume Sold: Total [PI1263]) / Water Provided for Sale: Total (PI9468)
Organizations should footnote all assumptions used
Indicates whether the organization employs water quality management practices for water quality protection.
Organizations should footnote all assumptions used.
Number of water samples meeting or exceeding national standards for quality / Total number of water samples
(Total number of household piped water connections with operating meter / (Number of Connections: Household Piped Water [NEW])) x 100
(Percent of all residents who rank themselves “likely to recommend” product or service) – (Percent of all residents who rank themselves as “unlikely to recommend” product or service)
Average monthly bill / Average monthly income