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Last update: May 2013

Progress on Sanitation and Drinking - Water - 2013 Update

Progress on Sanitation and Drinking - Water - 2013 Update [Eng]


Current status and trends

By the end of 2011, 89% of the world population used an improved drinking-water source and 55% enjoyed the convenience and associated health benefits of a piped supply on premises. An estimated 768 million people did not use an improved source for drinking-water in 2011 and 185 million relied on surface water to meet their daily drinking-water needs.

Note: there are important caveats to the announcement of the achievement of the drinking water target related to data limitations, and it is important to understand them. Please see the attached document “Data limitations in monitoring progress against the MDG drinking water target”


        The MDG drinking water target has been met



              Trends in global drinking water coverage, 1990-2011


Nearly three quarters of the global progress made in access to improved sources of drinking-water has been achieved through gaining access to piped water at home, or to the yard or plot.


 Less than a third of the population in four regions enjoy piped water on premises     

 Use of improved drinking water sources by MDG region in 2011, and percentage-point change 1990-2011


Eastern Asia is the region with the most dramatic increase in the use of improved drinking water sources overall, starting at 68 per cent in 1990 and moving to 92 per cent coverage in 2011.


43% of people without access to improved drinking water live in sub-Saharan Africa. While coverage of improved water supply sources is 90 per cent or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern Africa and large parts of Asia, it is only 63 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.


Stark disparities remain between urban and rural coverage, illustrating the challenges in equitable achievement of the MDGs. An estimated 96 per cent of the urban population globally used an improved water supply source in 2011, compared to 81 per cent of the rural population. Of the 2.1 billion people who gained access since 1990, almost two-thirds, 1.3 million, lived in urban areas. By the end of 2011, 83% of the population without access to an improved drinking-water source lived in rural areas.


However, the high urban drinking-water coverage rates mask poor reliability. Supplies are often intermittent, and this increases contamination risks. High urban coverage also masks the high price of drinking-water that poor people, in particular, may have to pay to informal suppliers. Also, the number of urban dwellers using unimproved sources actually increased, from 111 million in 1990 to 132 million in 2011, during a time of massive growth in the urban population, which rose from 2.3 billion to 3.6 billion people.


Explore the new estimates

The new water and sanitation estimates are available for viewers to explore using Google tools. Click here to access them at the base of the "Country and Regional Data" page.

Piped water on premises is a convenience enjoyed largely by urban populations


   Drinking water coverage trends by urban and rural areas, 1990-2011


The number of people using boreholes (which are usually handpump-operated) grew from 1 billion in 1990 to 1.3 billion in 2010. Eighty per cent of borehole users, almost a billion people, are in rural areas. While boreholes offer significant advantages over dug wells in terms of water quality, many boreholes with handpumps still impose a considerable burden on users in terms of the time and effort needed to collect the water.


When water is not available on premises and has to be collected, women and girls are almost two and a half times more likely than men and boys to be the main water carriers for their families. Each water collection trip takes an average of 30 minutes for men and women, adding up to millions of hours spent on this task by women every day.                                


1.3 billion people in urban areas gained access to an improved drinking water source between 1990 and 2011


Urban and rural population by type of drinking water source, 1990-2011 (millions)


Use of improved water sources is correlated with wealth. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 90 per cent of the richest fifth of the population use improved water sources, while only 35 per cent of the poorest fifth of the population do.

An analysis of data from 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (representing 84 per cent of the region’s population) shows significant differences between the poorest and richest fifths of the population. This is particularly stark when disaggregated by rural and urban areas. In the richest quintile in urban areas 94 per cent of households use improved water sources, and over 60 per cent have piped water on premises. However, in the poorest rural quintile, piped water is non-existent, and only 34 per cent use improved water sources.


The poorest 60 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa are largely denied the comforts and health benefits of a piped drinking water supply on premises


Sub-Saharan Africa: Drinking water coverage by wealth quintiles and urban or rural areas, based on population-weighted averages from 35 countries
Source: MICS and DHS surveys from 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 2004-2009


An analysis of wealth quintile trends between 1995 to 2008 for three countries in Southern Asia (India, Bangladesh and Nepal) shows that major gains in drinking water coverage have been seen in all five wealth quintiles. However, in the poorest quintiles, improvements have been almost entirely in the ‘other improved’ category, namely wells and handpumps. Piped water on premises is only used to a significant degree among households in the fourth and fifth quintiles.  Even so, among the richest 20 per cent, piped water is supplied to only 60 per cent of households, and little improvement has been seen since 1990.


In contrast to sanitation, improvements in drinking water supply have been equitably distributed among poor and wealthier populations in Southern Asia


Southern Asia: Drinking water coverage trends by wealth quintiles, based on population-weighted averages from three countries, 1995-2008
Source: India: National Family Health Survey 1993, 1999, 2006; Bangladesh: DHS 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2007; Nepal: DHS 1996, 2001, 2006


In the 50 countries designated as the least developed by the United Nations (LDCs), much of the populations has not benefited from investment in drinking water. Coverage in the developing world overall stands at 87 per cent, but it is a lot lower - 65 per cent - in LDCs. In those countries, 1 in 10 people use surface water for drinking and household use, and in rural areas 13 per cent of people rely on surface water sources. Data from least developed countries also present a discouraging picture in terms of piped water connections. While 55 per cent of the global population use piped water supplies, it is a convenience enjoyed by only 12 per cent of the people living in least developed countries and 4 per cent of their rural populations.