Welcome GuestLogin


Search the wiki



Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability Target 7.C. Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation


The proportion of population using an improved drinking water source is the share of the population that uses any types of improved drinking water supplies.

This indicator is expressed as a percentage.

An improved drinking water source is a facility that, by nature of its construction, is protected from outside contamination in particular from contamination with fecal matter. Improved drinking water sources include: piped water into dwelling, plot or yard; public tap/standpipe; borehole/tube well; protected dug well; protected spring; rainwater collection and bottled water. Users of bottled water are considered to have access to improved sources only when they have a secondary source which is of an otherwise improved type. Improved drinking water sources do not include unprotected wells, unprotected springs, water provided by carts with small tanks/drums, tanker truck-provided water and bottled water (if the secondary source is not improved) or surface water taken directly from rivers, ponds, streams, lakes, dams, or irrigation channels.

Drinking water is defined as water used for ingestion, food preparation and basic hygiene purposes.

Method of computation
The indicator is computed for both urban and rural areas by dividing the number of people who use an improved water source by the total urban or rural population and multiplying by 100.


Use of an improved drinking water source is a proxy for measuring access to safe drinking water. Improved drinking water sources are more likely to be protected from external contaminants than unimproved sources either by intervention or through their design and construction. Greater access to improved drinking water sources is important as it contributes to lowering the incidence of many diseases in developing countries. This indicator does not specify a minimum available amount of water per capita per day, nor does it specify a distance to the source expressed either in the amount of time required to collect water or the actual distance in meters.


Since the late 1990s, population-based data on the use of water sources have routinely been collected at national and sub-national levels in more than 150 countries using censuses and surveys by national governments, often with support from international development agencies. National-level household surveys are generally conducted every 3-5 years in most developing countries, while censuses are generally conducted every 10 years.

Nationally representative household surveys that typically collect information about water and sanitation include Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic Health Surveys (DHS), World Health Surveys (WHS), Living Standards and Measurement Surveys (LSMS), Core Welfare Indicator Questionnaires (CWIQ), and the Pan Arab Project for Family Health Surveys (PAPFAM). The survey questions and response categories pertaining to access to drinking water are fully harmonized between MICS and DHS. The same standard questions are being promoted for inclusion into other survey instruments and can be found at www.wssinfo.org.

Line-ministries and water utility companies usually keep records based on the number and type of facilities constructed or the number of piped household connections maintained. Occasionally, these records form the basis for national coverage estimates, sometimes exclusively or in combination with the latest survey or census data. Administrative or provider-based data are often based on cumulative totals of facilities constructed multiplied by a fixed number of users per type of facility. Administrative data often exclude facilities constructed under NGO supported programmes or facilities constructed by individual households without outside support. In addition, cumulative reporting does not reflect facilities that have fallen into disrepair. Provider-based data are only used for countries in developing regions when there are no survey or census data on access to or use of drinking water sources.

In contrast, sample surveys and censuses provide an estimate of what facilities are actually used by the population interviewed, at the time of measurement, including those constructed by different actors and excluding those that have fallen into disrepair and are no longer in use. For these reasons, data from surveys and censuses are deemed more reliable and objective than administrative records.

In order to classify drinking water service categories as “improved” or “not improved”, as required for the MDG indicator, data need to be collected by facility type. DHS and MICS surveys use the MDG classification of improved and unimproved drinking water sources as their standard response categories. Other sample survey instruments and censuses are encouraged to use a similar classification or at least ensure compatibility between the MDG indicators and survey response categories. Insufficient disaggregation of service categories is the most common problem for adequately assessing progress using this indicator.

Starting in 2008, the World Health Organisation/United Nations Children’s Fund (WHO/UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) separated drinking water sources into three categories:
  • Piped connections on premises (into dwelling, plot or yard)
  • Other improved drinking water sources
  • Unimproved water sources
In 2012, the JMP estimate separate “surface water” from the unimproved water sources.

Trends in the use of these four categories provide valuable information to programme managers and policy makers, but trend analysis is possible only when an adequate level of disaggregation of service categories is included in surveys.

Increasingly, people use bottled water as their main source of drinking water. Since bottled water is largely used for ingestion only, the DHS and MICS have included an additional question to determine what secondary source is used for other household purposes such as cooking or hand washing. Failure to record such information may mask the fact that many users of bottled water have access to piped drinking water as well. The JMP encourages other sample survey instruments and censuses to add a similar additional question. A sample question is at: http://www.childinfo.org/files/MICS4_Household_Questionnaire_v3.0.doc.


The indicator should be monitored separately for urban and rural areas. Because of national differences in characteristics that distinguish urban from rural areas, a single definition does not apply to all countries.

Geographical and socio-economic disaggregation is also possible. Censuses allow for the highest level of geographical or administrative disaggregation. Depending on the sample size and design of nationally representative sample surveys, they can also support regional or, in exceptional cases, provincial disaggregation. Censuses and most sample surveys allow for disaggregation by wealth quintiles, level of education and sex of the head of the household, or ethnic group.


Given the lack of nationally representative data on drinking water quality and safety and the high costs and technical difficulties of collecting such information at a large scale, the Inter-agency Expert Group on MDG Indicators endorses the use of this indicator on the use of an improved drinking water source as a proxy for access to safe drinking water.

The proxy indicator does not reflect the time spent on getting water from improved sources not on premises. Sustainable access is currently not measured for reasons of a lack of common understanding of what constitutes sustainable access and how to reliably measure it.

Alternative indicators that can be considered include:
  • Proportion of households using an improved drinking water source;
  • Proportion of households with household connections to a public piped water distribution system; and
  • Proportion of population with access to household connections to a public piped distribution system.


Women and men usually have different roles in water and sanitation activities. These differences are particularly pronounced in rural areas. Women are most often the users, providers and managers of water in rural households and the guardians of household hygiene. Also, women and girls are more likely than men and boys to bear the burden of carrying water from distant sources. When a water system breaks down, women are generally the ones most affected because they have to travel farther for water or use other means to meet the household’s water and sanitation needs. MICS and DHS collect information on who usually goes to the source to collect water for the household, by sex and age group (under 15 years and 15 years and older).


The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) is charged with international monitoring of the MDG drinking water and sanitation target. UNICEF and WHO collect survey and census data through an annual round of consultations by UNICEF country offices, through internet searches, direct contacts with national statistics offices and searches at the document repositories of the International Household Survey Network and other institutions. DHS and MICS data are obtained directly from Measure DHS and UNICEF.

The primary data sources for international monitoring include nationally representative surveys and censuses. When the JMP receives new survey or census data, the validity of the data is assessed based on objective criteria, including national representativeness; adequate sample size; implementing institution; questionnaire design; adequate disaggregation by urban, rural and type of drinking water source New survey data are entered into the JMP database only if these criteria are met.

In some cases data are adjusted to improve comparability over time or when the country definition of use of improved drinking water is different from the international definition. When the definition of a particular category does not allow to assess whether a category is improved or not, additional information from other surveys in that country is used. If additional information is not available, the JMP considers only half of the users of e.g. a “well” or a “spring” as using a protected well or protected spring and half as using an unprotected well or spring. . Survey and census coverage data for urban and rural areas are then plotted on a time scale from 1990 to the present. A linear trend line, based on the least-squares method, is drawn through these data points to estimate urban and rural coverage for the baseline year 1990 and for the year of the most recent estimate.

Regional and global estimates are aggregated from national estimates using population-weighted averages. These estimates are presented only if available data cover at least 50 per cent of the total population in the relevant regional or global grouping. Population estimates are provided by the United Nations Population Division on a biennial basis.. For the purpose of regional aggregation, countries with missing data weigh in at the regional average for the purpose of determining the regional population with and without access.




MEASURE DHS. Guide to DHS Statistics. Calverton, Maryland. Internet site http://www.measuredhs.com/publications/publication-dhsg1-dhs-questionnaires-and-manuals.cfm

UNITED NATIONS (2008). Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses: Revision 2. New York. Available from http://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/SeriesM/Seriesm_67rev2e.pdf.

UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND (2006). Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Manual 2005. Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women. New York. Available from http://www.childinfo.org/mics3_manual.html.

WORLD BANK (2007). Briefing Notes on Gender Development - Water and Sanitation. Washington, D.C. Available from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTGENDER/Resources/Water_March07.pdf.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION AND UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND (2012). Progress on Drinking-water and Sanitation: 2012 Update. WHO, Geneva and UNICEF, New York. Available from http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/JMP-report-2012-en.pdf.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION AND UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND (2005). Core Questions on Drinking-Water and Sanitation for Household Surveys. WHO, Geneva and UNICEF, New York. Available from http://www.wssinfo.org/pdf/WHO_2008_Core_Questions.pdf.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION AND UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND. Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. WHO, Geneva and UNICEF, New York. Internet site http://www.wssinfo.org.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION AND UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND (2011). JMP 2011 Thematic Report on Drinking water: Equity, safety and sustainability. WHO, Geneva and UNICEF, New York. Internet site http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/report_wash_low.pdf

ScrewTurn Wiki version Some of the icons created by FamFamFam.