UN drinking water: some progress, a lot of catching up to do!

Summary of the UNICEF-WHO JMP Report (2020-2022).

Children walking to a nearby river for water in Laos @ADB

The “Progress Report on Drinking Water and Sanitation and Hygiene” is the reference document for monitoring Goal 6 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030. It is a survey of data from as many countries as possible, carried out jointly by WHO and UNICEF under the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP), which is the repository of global data on water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Every three years, the JMP produces a report on progress in this area, publishing reliable data.

The latest report, published on July 6, 2023, shows the progress made in terms of access to water, but also the progress that still needs to be made to achieve the MDGs, while also presenting the challenges that come under MDG 5 on gender equality. This summary follows the same structure as the report, providing an overview of the key data collected and putting them into perspective in relation to the 2030 targets.

Progress to be stepped up…

This report presents updated national, regional and global estimates of household access to water, sanitation and hygiene for the period 2000-2022. Universal and equitable access to safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN and its member countries.

To reach the targets of MDG 6 by 2030, it will be necessary to multiply by six the current rates of progress for safe drinking water, by five for safe sanitation and by three for the provision of basic hygiene services.

In low-income countries, achieving universal coverage of basic WASH services by 2030 will require a dramatic acceleration in current rates of progress.

…To achieve joint goals

Progress in drinking water, sanitation, health and hygiene is essential to achieving MDG 5, which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and this report focuses on gender to reflect this.

Indeed, there are many links between these two SDGs:

  • 1.8 billion people obtain their drinking water from sources outside the home, and in seven out of ten cases, women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water.
  • In almost all countries with comparable data, the burden of water transport remains significantly heavier for women and girls than for men. The report’s estimate includes collection from both improved and unimproved drinking water sources.
  • More than half a billion people share sanitary facilities and water points with other households. Emerging data shows that among these people, women are more likely than men to feel uncomfortable or unsafe with sanitation facilities, particularly when walking alone after dark.
  • The absence of hand-washing facilities has a greater impact on adolescent girls and women, who are the main carers for children and household chores in many countries around the world.
  • Inadequate water-sanitation-hygiene (WASH) services limit the ability of adolescent girls and women, as well as other menstruating individuals, to manage their periods in safety and privacy.

Drinking water services

Since 2015, managed drinking water coverage has risen from 69% to 73%, from 56% to 62% in rural areas and from 80% to 81% in urban areas.

In 2022, one person in five lacked access to safe, managed drinking water, and this access varied widely around the world.

Some key data:

  • By 2022, 73% of the world’s population will be using safely managed drinking water services, 62% in rural areas and 81% in urban areas.
  • 2.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed drinking water, including 1.5 billion with basic services, 292 million with limited services, 296 million with unimproved services and 115 million with surface water.
  • Estimates of safely managed services are available for 142 countries and six of the eight SDG regions, representing 51% of the world’s population.
  • Achieving universal access to safely managed services by 2030 will require a six-fold increase on current rates of progress (20 times in least developed countries, 19 times in fragile contexts).

Sanitation services

Since 2015, sanitation coverage has risen from 49% to 57%, from 36% to 46% in rural areas and from 60% to 65% in urban areas.

In 2022, two out of every 5 people had no safe access to sanitation, and this access varied widely across the world.Some key data:

  • By 2022, 57% of the world’s population will be using safely managed sanitation services, 46% in rural areas and 65% in urban areas.
  • 3.5 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation services, including 1.9 billion with basic services, 570 million with limited services, 545 million with unimproved services and 419 million practicing open defecation.
  • Estimates of safely managed services were available for 135 countries and seven of the eight SDG regions, representing 86% of the world’s population.
  • Universal access to safely managed services by 2030 will require a five-fold increase on current rates of progress, a 16-fold increase in the least developed countries and a 15-fold increase in fragile contexts.

Hygiene services

Since 2015, coverage of hygiene services has increased from 67% to 75%, rising from 53% to 65% in rural areas, but has remained largely unchanged at 83% in urban areas.

In 2022, one in four people will not have access to basic hygiene services, but four regions do not have sufficient data on the subject.

In 2022, one person in four will lack access to basic hygiene services (some regions do not provide data).

Some key data:

  • By 2022, 75% of the world’s population will be using basic sanitation services, 65% in rural areas and 83% in urban areas.
  • 2 billion people lack basic sanitation services, including 1.3 billion with limited services and 653 million without facilities.
  • Estimates of basic services were available for 84 countries and four of the eight SDG regions, representing 69% of the world’s population.
  • Achieving universal access to basic hygiene services by 2030 will require a three-fold increase on current rates of progress (12-fold in least developed countries and eight-fold in fragile contexts).

Menstrual health and hygiene

53 countries had data for at least one menstrual health indicator in 2022, and three-quarters of these were low- or lower-middle-income countries.

Adolescent girls and women have access to sanitary protection and a private place to wash and change in most parts of the world. However, they do not participate in school, work or social activities during their periods.

Some key data:

  • 53 countries have data for at least one menstrual health indicator in 2022, and three-quarters of them were low-income or lower-middle-income.
  • Adolescents and women living in rural areas are more likely to use reusable menstrual equipment or no equipment at all.
  • Adolescents and women in the poorest wealth quintile and those with material difficulties are more likely to lack a private place to wash and change at home.
  • Many adolescent girls and women do not participate in school, work or social activities during menstruation, but there are significant differences between and within countries.

Where do the study data come from?

This is an important question, as not all countries take the same measurements, and some regions of the world are unable to provide data on specific issues. There is a disparity between countries according to their level of wealth, but also by theme. As a result, there is not the same amount of data available, measurable or accessible in all areas.

Ultimately, there is still a great deal of progress to be made to achieve the goals by 2030.

The UNICEF/WHO JMP Report has the immense merit of existing and indicating what remains to be achieved to reach Goal 6 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) decided by UN member states in 2015. Will the World Summit on the SDGs, to be held in New York on September 18, meet the expectations and proposals of water stakeholders to achieve these goals, without forgetting anyone! To be continued in a future issue of Défis Humanitaires.


This summary presents the main findings of the study, while the full report is available here: https://washdata.org/reports/jmp-2023-wash-households-gender-pullout-launch

Summary by Camille CHAMBON

The right to access drinking water and sanitation in France by 2023: persistent delays

Closing of the UN Water Conference in New York March 2023

The human rights to drinking water and sanitation were recognized by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of July 28, 2010 (resolution 64/292), which acknowledged that “the right to drinking water and sanitation is a human right, essential for the full enjoyment of life and the exercise of all human rights” and called on States and international organizations “to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through international assistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries, in order to intensify efforts to provide safe drinking water and sanitation services that are accessible and affordable to all”.

Despite this international recognition, supported by France, the human right to water and sanitation is still not fully reflected in French legislation. While the 2006 Water and Aquatic Environments Act (LEMA) stipulates that “every individual, for food and hygiene, has the right of access to drinking water, in conditions economically acceptable to all” (article L 210-1), the article fails to meet the ambitious requirements of the right to water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations. Despite a promise of transformation “Leave no one behind”, which is at the heart of the Agenda 2030 and speeches, the challenges of access to water reflect inequalities as strong as ever, particularly with regard to marginalized and discriminated groups.

At a time when climate change is having a strong and rapid impact on the availability of water resources, the rights to water and sanitation must be protected, respected and implemented without discrimination. According to the right to water and sanitation criteria, water and sanitation services must be “sufficient and available at all times, safe and of acceptable quality, accessible physically and financially, and without danger“. Each state bears the primary responsibility for guaranteeing the application of these rights on its territory. In developed countries such as France, the challenge is to implement these rights for everyone, including people in precarious or excluded situations.
To achieve this, France must incorporate the human rights to water and sanitation into its national legislation. They must be enforceable, so that they can be the subject of legal recourse.

Lack of access to water for the underprivileged

While 99% of the population has access to a water supply network and 99.7% of French people have a toilet at home (Insee), access to drinking water and sanitation in France remains problematic for people in precarious situations.

Today, there are 330,000 homeless people in mainland France and 100,000 living in makeshift dwellings (28th FAP report), who by definition depend on water supplies outside their homes (public fountains, fire hydrants, surface water, etc.).

According to the Fondation Abbé Pierre, in its 28th report on inadequate housing :

330,000 people are homeless
100,000 people live in makeshift housing, including around 20,000 in shantytowns (DIHAL figures) [1].
208,000 “Travellers” are living in poor housing conditions, or without access to a place in designated reception areas [2].
2090,000 people live in very difficult housing conditions, with deprivation of comfort [3].

Thanks to the Observatoire des droits à l’eau et à l’assainissement (DHEA), it is possible to observe major geographical disparities across France in terms of access to public water and sanitation infrastructures. But there are also disparities in terms of support from decision-makers, often depending on the goodwill of local decision-makers, as well as the existence of a strong and coherent interasso (such as the Collectif Action Bord’Eaux in Bordeaux).

Solidarités International slogan: “water can’t be earned, it’s a right”, on a vehicle used for field actions for access to water in France.

Situations still critical:

The situation of human rights to water and sanitation is critical for people living in the DROMs (Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Reunion, Martinique and Mayotte): water is not always available or continuously accessible there, it is expensive and often unfit for consumption. A 2013 CGEDD report noted that the French Overseas Territories are “40 years behind in implementing water and sanitation policy”. With rates of access to water and sanitation well below those in mainland France, some territories face challenges similar to those in developing countries. In some French overseas departments, a significant proportion of the population suffers from frequent water cuts throughout the year.
In Mayotte, 31.5% of families are without running water, and 17% of their budget goes on paying water bills. 4 out of 10 homes are made of sheet metal.
On Reunion Island, 46% of users are supplied by networks that do not guarantee satisfactory sanitary safety.
Martinique and Guadeloupe are experiencing numerous daily water restrictions and turns, as well as chlordecone poisoning.
The situation of people living in exile on France’s northern coast is the most critical in mainland France in terms of their right to water and sanitation. This coastal area is one of the main crossing points on the migratory route, with many people in exile for short periods. According to local associations, the number of people exiled to the North fluctuates between 1,000 and 3,000 every year, and includes single men, women, families and unaccompanied minors. Although the extremely precarious living conditions of these people have been widely known to the authorities and reported in the media since 2016, no satisfactory measures have been taken by the authorities to guarantee access to water, hygiene and sanitation that is sufficiently dignified or meets at least the international humanitarian standards used in crisis situations (SPHERE standards).

New water access standards since 2023
In January 2023, the European “Drinking Water” Directive 2020/2184, Article 16 of which provides a framework for access to drinking water for vulnerable and marginalized populations, was transposed into French law with the publication of an ordinance and an implementing decree. The aim is to “guarantee access to water intended for human consumption for everyone, even in the absence of a connection to the public water distribution network, including people in vulnerable situations linked to social, economic or environmental factors”.

These new texts now take account of people and groups of people who have no access to drinking water, or insufficient access, in particular those who are homeless or living in precarious and informal housing (squats, shanty towns, camps). [4]

Many people on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines do not have easy access to clean drinking water at home. The Mindanao Basic Urban Services Sector project, funded by the Asian Development Bank, is helping to change this situation.

NGO expectations :

  • Recognition of the right to water and sanitation by France
  • Ambitious implementation of Order no. 2022-1611 of December 22, 2022 on access to and quality of water intended for human consumption.
  • A normative definition of access to drinking water aimed at harmonizing approaches and establishing a common standard that is up to the task.

The issue of affordability

More than a million households have difficulty paying their water bills: 1,210,000 tenants with unpaid rent or service charges (a consensus exists among OECD countries considering that the price of water becomes unaffordable when this bill exceeds 3% of effective household income) (Enquête Nationale Logement 2013, Fondation Abbé Pierre calculations).
The right to water implies that access to drinking water must be affordable for all. A consensus exists in France and OECD countries that the price of water becomes unaffordable when this bill exceeds 3% of effective household income. Today, on average, the water and sewerage bill represents 1.25% of a household’s average disposable income (around €4 per m3, or €500 for a 120 m3 bill).
People whose water bill exceeds this 3% are mainly the unemployed, single people, pensioners and rural water users. The latter may also find it difficult to finance the upgrading of their on-site sanitation facilities, which are subject to the regulations governing Non-Collective Sanitation. While 97.6% of collective sanitation systems were compliant in 2017, efforts are still required for non-collective sanitation, where the level of compliance is only 58.4% [5]. To date, this compliance (sanitary and environmental standards) remains the responsibility of each household (between €5,000 and €15,000) and many households are unable to finance it, even though they already pay as part of their water bill a share concerning the sanitation of the water consumed.
In 2018 the government made a commitment during the Assises de l’eau to introduce a national water voucher. This measure has still not been implemented. Until 2019 and the Commitment and Proximity law, the doctrine was that of a single water price. Since then, local authorities have been able to help poor households pay their water and sanitation bills. Article 15 allows for the adoption and implementation of social tariffs in water service regulations. However, this remains at the discretion of the local authority and its decision-makers.

So it’s a step forward, although a number of obstacles remain. If it is possible to create a social water tariff, one question is who will be responsible for implementing this measure at local level. This implies having access to various types of information. However, various confidentiality rules make it difficult to access the databases used to identify beneficiaries. The administration and its various departments pass the buck when it comes to disseminating this information. Finally, there is an a priori exclusion of people without rights or titles from aid mechanisms, i.e. this is aimed at people registered in distribution systems, and not at those being “where they have no right to be” (typically the homeless or people in atypical habitats).
The French Ministry of Ecological Transition has published a toolbox to help local authorities roll out their social water policies, with fact sheets on the main social water policy measures, existing social assistance, etc.

Solidarités Intrenational has made access to water its main battleground in France and abroad, as here in Kerson, Ukraine in 2022.

NGO expectations:

  • Deployment of preventive assistance for paying water bills throughout France.
  • A definition of what constitutes an “affordable price” for water and the maximum percentage that should not be exceeded in relation to a household’s total income.

Lack of data

The situation of people without access to water and sanitation is largely invisible and largely unknown to the general public. It is difficult to put a precise figure on the populations affected by this physical lack of access to water and sanitation, as there is no national survey providing data on the availability of public water and sanitation facilities.
To date, no French indicator exists to monitor these two targets, which are essential to achieving MDG 6. Existing statistical tools do not allow us to analyze the problems of water poverty and lack of connection to the water and sanitation network for certain populations (migrants, the homeless, people living in makeshift housing), nor the exacerbated problems of access to water and sanitation in the French Overseas Territories [6].

This lack of follow-up means that we are unable to provide appropriate responses, and leaves part of the population out in the cold. The French state must strengthen its accountability in this area by creating suitable indicators and collecting regular data on access to water and sanitation for all people present on its territory, including those in situations of great precariousness [7].

NGO expectations :

  • Increase the visibility of water and sanitation access issues in France, and gain a better understanding of situations.
  • Detect and quantify the number of people with inadequate access to sanitation in France.
  • Produce quantitative and qualitative data on situations of lack of physical and/or affordable access to water and sanitation in France.
Photo courtesy of the United Nations Office for Project Services UNOPS

Sandra Metayer and Edith Guiochon – (Coalition Eau)

Coalition Eau
Coalition Eau is a collective of French NGOs committed to the human rights to water and sanitation and to water as a common good: http://www.coalition-eau.org/