Water is key to poverty reduction and health

During World Water Day celebrations, it was humbling by the fact that over 663 million people on the planet still lived without access to safe drinking water; 2.4 billion people lacked access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines. With these challenges persisting around the world despite decades of hard work in the water and sanitation sectors, the key question we ask is are we at a point where we need to take a step back from current solutions and practices and do business differently?

The new Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Poverty Diagnostic (WASH PD) initiative suggests exactly that.

New findings from the WASH PD initiative (led by the World Bank Water Global Practice in collaboration with Poverty, Governance, and Health, Nutrition, and Population) for the first time advances our understanding in a systematic manner of the relationship between poverty and WASH at the country level. Our deep analysis of 18 countries—across six regions—provides us with new evidence of realities that must be acknowledged, and shows without a doubt that we must work together across sectors if we are to find solutions with sustained impacts on the ground.

Quick facts from around the world: 

  • In Mozambique, 90 percent of the poorest mothers lack access to antenatal care and 90 percent of underweight mothers only have access to unimproved sanitation
  • In Nigeria, 61 percent of the rural population lives more than 30 minutes away – and 34% lives more than 2 hours away – from a functioning water source
  • In Tajikistan, households in the Sugd Region report getting piped water 1 day per week
  • In Pakistan, despite improvements to nutritious food, reductions in open defecation and poverty, childhood stunting has stayed constant at 43 percent.  Construction of unimproved toilets and persistent water quality issues are not helping reduce this burden
  • In Indonesia, it is estimated that only 5 percent of urban wastewater is safely treated and disposed
  • In Tunisia, the richest 20 percent of households receive an estimated 27 percent of water subsidies, while the bottom 20 percent of households receive only 11 percent of the subsidies
  • In Ecuador, 93 percent of people in urban areas and 76 percent in rural areas has improved access to water services but still, 24 percent of the rural population drinks contaminated water

What we’re learning is telling:  Our initiative reveals critical gaps in policy, or between policy and implementation, which leads to poor service delivery. Working with Governance colleagues at the World Bank is stretching us beyond our water sector lens, and it is becoming abundantly clear that service delivery is many times hindered by inter-governmental fiscal and administrative systems and the interplay with politics. This may not come as a surprise to those who work with these issues on the ground, but now we have the numbers to prove it.

If we shift our focus from purely designing and implementing a project to the ‘service delivery problem’, the need for multi-sectoral thinking becomes apparent. For example, in Nigeria our analysis shows that nearly 30 percent of water points and water schemes fail within the first year. Forty-four percent of borehole construction projects are never started, and only 37 percent of borehole projects that get started are fully completed. The results are that 71 percent of Nigerian households in the lowest wealth quintile lack access to a protected water source. Read more