World is off-track to ensure even basic water, sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030

Posted by
Laura Crowley
7 July 2021
Image: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

New figures from the WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) show that efforts need to double to ensure everyone everywhere has basic access to water and sanitation by 2030, and quadruple to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for universal access to safely managed services.

It’s five years since targets were set including SDG6, which aims to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ by 2030, but at current rates of progress at 1% per year, this will not be achieved until decades after the deadline. WaterAid is highlighting the need for more investment from public and private sectors and increased political prioritisation to meet global targets.

The new JMP report, Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 – 2020, shows that there has been some progress in improving access to sanitation over the past five years, with the population practising open defecation decreasing by a third, from 739 million people to 494 million.

However, 1.7 billion still lacked basic sanitation, meaning 1 in 4 people had no private toilet within their household that was built in a way to hygienically separate excreta from human contact. Nearly half the world’s population lacked safely managed sanitation, where excreta are safely disposed in situ or removed and treated off-site.

In 2020, for the first time, more people used improved on-site sanitation, such as pit latrines and septic tanks, which can effectively contain and treat waste, rather than sewer connections. It is important that services, accountability and regulation are put in place to cover each part of the onsite sanitation service chain.

The data gathered last year shows that 2.3 billion people had no access to basic hygiene facilities, and at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 3 in 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water at home.

Between 2015 and 2020, 547 million people gained access to basic hygiene – a rate of 300,000 people per day. However, the current rate of progress will not be fast enough to ensure universal access in 9 years' time, threatening to leave 1.9 billion people without basic handwashing facilities in 2030.

Meanwhile, 1 in 10 lacked even basic access to clean water, while 2 billion - that’s 1 in 4 - did not have a household water supply that is reliable and tested to be safe. Without further action, by 2030, 1.6 billion people across the world will still be without safely managed drinking water at home.

Despite the poverty reducing power of safe water, sanitation and hygiene, the most vulnerable populations are falling the furthest behind. Globally, 8 out of 10 people who still lack even basic water services live in rural areas, while half the world’s population without access to basic drinking water live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In least developed countries and fragile contexts, progress needs to ramp up to between 10 and 23 times its current rate to meet the SDGs and other health equity goals.

Recent research by WaterAid found an investment of $229 billion each year through to 2030 is required to get safe water, sanitation and hygiene to unserved populations in lower income countries and lower-middle income countries. This investment needs to be allocated in an accountable manner, targeted to marginalised populations, and contribute to strengthening systems.

To ramp up progress, political leaders must rally to prioritise water, sanitation and hygiene, and engender a culture of adaptive management and learning. Governance and monitoring systems need to be strengthened, interlinked, and aligned to respond to evidence and to lessons from the COVID pandemic and to build the resilience needed to tackle current and future global health and climate crises.
Sol Oyuela, Global Director Policy and Campaigns at WaterAid says:

“It’s promising to see the progress that has been made in improving global access to clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, but efforts need to drastically ramp up if we are to meet the global goal to bring these basic human rights to everyone everywhere by 2030. Furthermore, we must focus more attention on addressing the extreme inequalities that exist between rich and poor communities to ensure that no one is left behind, as no one is safe until everyone is safe.

“The global pandemic has highlighted just how important water, sanitation and hygiene are. These basic facilities underpin almost all other areas of development and are essential for breaking the cycle of poverty and helping communities protect themselves from the spread of disease. Without further action, billions of people will remain exposed to social, health and economic risks. However, change is possible if governments, civil society and the private sector work together to tackle this global crisis with the urgency it so desperately needs.”

WaterAid also welcomes the inclusion of menstrual health figures in the report for the first time, providing valuable insight to guide action. Compiling data from over 40 countries, the report exposes the shortfalls in provision that many women and girls experience, with significant disparities among vulnerable groups.


UNICEF/WHO JMP 2021 report can be found at:

For more information, please contact:

Laura Crowley at [email protected] or call +44 (0)207 793 4965. For out of hours press enquiries, please call +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected].

Notes to Editors:

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 27 million people with clean water and 27 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's around 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes. [1] 
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[2] 
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[3]  

[1] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[2] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage