New JMP report offers fresh insights into rural water progress and challenges

The new JMP report is out with WASH data up to 2017! This is an initial look at some key points relating to rural water supply

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) is one of the central data and analysis resources for the WASH sector and each new report and data update is generally grabbed eagerly by WASH data geeks, like me.

This being RWSN, I’m specifically interested in rural water supply and what I present below is a hasty digest of some key facts and figures in the latest 2019 JMP report specifically relating to rural drinking water access.

I’m sure other WASH bloggers will also add the analysis, but I found the stuff on inequalities very interesting and useful. Some things that jumped out at me include:

  • What can we learn from Paraguay, Morocco and other countries that have made good progress?
  • Rural water supply challenges are not just about Sub-Saharan Africa: Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Jamaica, Nicaragua and others are going backwards; and in terms of absolute numbers of people, China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan still have millions of rural people
  • Lower wealth quintiles often get left behind, but not always.
  • The new 3 elements of “Safely Managed” water are interesting and highlight an urgent need for systematic water quality monitoring – which a new RWSN Topic this year, as part of the Mapping & Monitoring Theme, thanks to our friends at the University of North Carolina.

Global Headline Facts & Figures

Here are some nuggets that will doubtless be seen in powerpoint presentations, funding proposals and journal papers over the coming year:

  • “2000-2017: Rural coverage of safely managed services increased from 39% to 53%. The gap between urban and rural areas decreased from 47 to 32 percentage points.”
  • “In 2017: 5.3 billion people used safely managed services. An additional 1.4 billion used at least basic services. 206 million people used limited services, 435 million used unimproved sources, and 144 million still used surface water.”
  • “46 out of 132 countries are on track to achieve ‘nearly universal’ basic water services by 2030, but rural areas and the poorest wealth quintiles have furthest to go”
  • “The greatest increase was recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a quarter of the current population has gained access to at least basic drinking water since 2000”
  • In 2017: Eight out of ten people still lacking even basic services lived in rural areas. Nearly half lived in Least Developed Countries
  • “207 million people still used sources where water collection exceeded 30 minutes. Two thirds (135 million) of these people lived in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa but six out of eight SDG regions contained at least one country where >10% of the population used limited water services in 2017. The burden of water collection falls disproportionately on women.”

The report also reminds us that WASH is not just about SDG6, there are direct and indirect references in:

  • SDG 1.4 (No Poverty) its indicator 1.4.1 “Proportion of population living in households with access to basic services (including access to basic drinking water, basic sanitation and basic handwashing facilities)”
  • SDG 4.a (Education) and its indicator: 4.a.1 Proportion of schools with access to… (e) basic drinking water, (f) single-sex basic sanitation facilities, and (g) basic handwashing facilities
  • SDG 3.8 (Health) and its indicator on proportion of health care facilities with basic WASH services.

Since the emergence of SDG6.1 there has been a question about what “Safely Managed” water means. Well now there is some data available of the three elements chosen by the JMP team:

  • “Accessible on premises”
  • “Available when needed”
  • “Free from contamination”

However, there is only data for 14 countries for all three of these, but from those: “Between 2000 and 2017, water quality in rural areas improved from 42% to 53% free from contamination”

Regional/Country Progress and inequalities

Without doubt, the rural water supply star country is Paraguay: “Paraguay increased rural coverage of basic water from 53% to 99% and reduced the gap between richest and poorest by over 40 percentage points.”


  • “In almost all countries, service levels are higher in urban areas than in rural areas, but different patterns of inequality are observed.”
  • “In Latin America and the Caribbean, 12% of the rural population lacked basic water services in 2017, compared to 29% in 2000”
  • “In Haiti rural basic water coverage has increased among the richest but decreased among the poorest thereby widening the gap between them”
  • “In Nicaragua, rural basic water coverage has decreased among both groups.”
click to expand

Country progress to achieving Basic Rural Water Coverage by 2030 (figure above):

  • 16 countries on track, including: Morocco, Tajikistan, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Iraq, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, India, Vietnam, Tunisia, Brazil, Lithuania, Suriname, Panama. The most progress is being made by Morocco (+2.5%/year)
  • 61 countries are making progress, but too slowly.  The best progress is being made by Afghanistan and Mozambique (+2.1%/year)
  • 17 countries are going backwards, including: Iran, Fiji, Malaysia, North Korea, Serbia, Jamaica, Comoros, Gambia, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Solomon Island. The biggest declines have been in Burkina Faso, Comoros and the Solomon Islands (-0.9%/year).

Which countries have the biggest rural water supply challenges?

The JMP data can examine this question in different ways – and a few new ones too. This is a quick-and-dirty dive into the data to look at which countries are struggling and should be given priority:

A column on water quality/contamination criteria is not included because the aggregated data for rural water is not available – and in many cases probably doesn’t exist.

These are just a few highlights, please take the time to read the report and explore the data portal.

RWSN at the UNC Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy

The Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, organized by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is one of the most important conferences for WaSH professionals. This year the conference has not only explored the interactions between drinking water supply, sanitation, hygiene, water resources and public health, but put also a strong emphasis on rural water supply in developing countries. Researchers, practitioners and policy-makers had the chance to present and lively debate

by Sandra Fuerst and Sean Furey (Skat Foundation)

The Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, organized by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is one of the most important conferences for WaSH professionals. This year the conference has not only explored the interactions between drinking water supply, sanitation, hygiene, water resources and public health, but put also a strong emphasis on rural water supply in developing countries. Researchers, practitioners and policy-makers had the chance to present and lively debate on following topics:

  • Measuring Progress Toward Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Targets
  • Water Scarcity
  • Rural Water Supply
  • WaSH Equity and Inclusion
  • WaSH in Emergencies

At this year’s conference, the RWSN and its partners have convened two side events, providing water professionals an interactive space for engaging on cutting-edge topics of rural water supply. These sessions translated the “virtual RWSN DGroups into real life discussion groups” as Stef Smits (IRC), the chair of the first side event, phrased it. The participating water experts shared their experiences and developed exciting ideas with their peers for challenging rural water contexts.

Universal and Sustainable Rural Water Services: Different Perspectives, Common Goals

In the first side event, participants were invited to understand two major concepts to apply them later through group discussions in a case study of an WaSH implementation organisation, HYSAWA, Bangladesh, presented by their Managing Director, Md. Nural Osman.

Md. Nurul Osman (HYSAWA)

Sara Ahrari presented the NGO perspective of how organisations, like Simavi, use monitoring and data systems to promote Social Accountability and the holding duty-bearers to account when it comes to the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Miguel Vargas-Ramirez from the World Bank and Ellen Greggio from WaterAid presented then the development partner perspective on how data and monitoring can be used to raise the capacity of governments and service providers to deliver sustainable rural WaSH services, particularly rural water supply. This included on-going work to develop benchmarks for rural water service delivery, which WaterAid is testing in Myanmar.

After the break, Elisabeth Liddle from Cambridge University, and Prof. Rob Hope from Oxford University, gave the research perspective on how data and monitoring is enabling them to generate deeper insights into why rural water supply systems fail and how to develop new ways of making them more sustainable.

After the concepts have been introduced, the participants applied them in smaller groups to the HYSAWA case study in Bangladesh. This case study was presented by HYSAWA (Hygiene, Sanitation and Water Supply) to come up with suggestions and advice on how his organisation can improve the quality and sustainability of their rural WaSH interventions. The audience debated questions around:

  • Who is responsible for monitoring and data collection? Who is accountable and feels responsible for what? Those who design the system?
  • Who is responsible for the service provision of water in rural areas? And who needs to be hold accountable for that?
  • What are the drivers to feeling responsible?
  • What are the services that needs to be done?
  • How do the processes need to be managed?

Stef Smits (IRC)

Stef Smits summarised the debates during this session on three levels:

Who? The answer that communities and local governments should be accountable for the service provision of water in rural areas seemed to be too easy as in fact it is not clear at all. The role of service providers in many contexts is not very well defined, also not in legal terms. Accountability is often spread over several layers. For example, minor operation and maintenance (O&M) services can be done on community level, while major O&M services can be provided through public services. Then the levels of accountability also need to be differentiated between service provider and service authority. This first differentiation will help to define who is responsible for what and will help the service authority to hold the service provider accountable. As soon as the roles of different stakeholders are clearly defined, it can be defined more specifically who needs to collect the data. The collection of data then needs to be spread over different levels, from household, community, service provider to authority level.

What? The debate started around the functionality of rural water supply devices and has shown that there is not a simple answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to functionality. Functionality needs to be distinguished between functional devices and functional services (i.e. O&M services). This led to the question how functionality should be measured and which other indicators should be taken into account. Should we bring water quality in as an indicator? Clearly, financial indicators are necessary. As the trend to use indicators and monitoring tools is increasing among service providers and governments in rural areas, it becomes increasingly necessary to define clear indicators for universal rural water services. Based on that development, we can start to understand rural water as a systemic issue.

How? The identified need to define clear indicators on different levels, raised the question of how the process of developing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems should be managed. Even though governments were identified to lead this process, NGOs could support to trigger it. However, if a NGO has developed a working M&E systems, it cannot be simply handed over from a NGO to the government, without a well-planned transition phase. It also needs to be taken into account who “the government” is and on which level the government operates. Data and M&E systems will at the end always need a sector development approach.

Pipe Dream or Possible: Reaching the Furthest Behind First in the WASH Sector? – RWSN Side Event 2

The second side event was convened by RWSN (Simavi, Wateraid) with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and World Vision. During this session, the participants developed human-centred solutions for “Reaching the Furthest Behind First” and “Leaving No One Behind” in the WASH sector.


The participants worked in several groups on different case studies of extremely vulnerable people (i.e. disabled pregnant child) that are exposed to extreme hazards in their environment (i.e. arsenic contamination of groundwater).

In several steps, the participants developed possible solutions based on their field of expertise: In a first step, they illustrated the social, cultural, physical, political and legal barriers that the imaginary persona faced, regarding their social inclusion. Then they created inspirational ideas of possible solutions to these barriers. The different options were heavily discussed before choosing one or more solutions. To illustrate the actions and stakeholders needed to implement these solutions, a story board was created by each group. Finally, the persona, storyboard and possible solution were presented in pitches to all participants.



The two side events have been great examples of how the RWSN works as its best: “Taking concrete examples and bring them together with key concepts from research and practice. This is the richness that RWSN provides: Linking practical questions with conceptional frameworks (Stef Smits)”.

Sharing experiences of data flows in water and sanitation – some reflections from AGUASAN Workshop 2018

A perspective on the 2018 AGUASAN Workshop: “Leveraging the data revolution Informed decision-making for better water and sanitation management” June 25th to 29th 2018, Spiez, Switzerland

AGUASAN Workshop: “Leveraging the data revolution Informed decision-making for better water and sanitation management” June 25th to 29th 2018, Spiez, Switzerland 

Update 24/08/2018: Read the AGUASAN event report

AGUASAN is the Swiss Community of Practice for water and sanitation that has been running since 1984 and comprises regular meetings through the year and an annual week-long workshop focused on a specific topic, which this year was around role of data in decision-making in water and sanitation services. Around 40 participants attended at a really great training facility in Spiez, in central Switzerland. They came, not just from Swiss organisations, but from a wide range of partners (many who are active RWSN members). There were participants from Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Mozambique, Peru, Thailand, Mali, Pakistan, Benin, Egypt, Mongolia, the UK, South Africa, US and many more.

The structure of the event mixed up presentations with “Clinical Cases” group work focused on real-world case studies and challenges where participants could advise representatives from those organisations:

Different aspects issues around data use in water and sanitation were introduced through a good range of engaging presentations:

AGUASAN workshops aim to come out with useful output and what was proposed was a practical guideline that pulled together they key points from the presentations and discussions, around a common framework, which was beautifully illustrated on the wall of the plenary room at the end:


Preliminary result of the AGUASAN workshop: the “Navigator manual” (click/tap to expand) designed by Filippo Buzzini (Sketchy Solutions)


I was not completely convinced by the linear conceptual framework that was proposed because what I have observed previously, and came out in the discussion and presentations, is that WASH systems are generally messy, non-linear processes. However, what was clear is that good quality monitoring, mapping and data is a critical “fuel” for driving positive feedback loops for short-term operational decision-making and longer term learning and adaptation cycles.

A not-so-pretty graphical summary by your correspondent (click/tap to expand).

Despite Skat’s long association with the AGUASAN workshop this was my first workshop and I enjoyed it, and found it useful to have the opportunity to have a few days away from the distractions of emails, to focus on one topic with knowledgeable colleagues from all over the world and all over the WASH sector. The field trips also took us to explore some of Switzerland fascinating water history and modern challenges.

Your correspondent giving a lighthearted recap of key learning points (and Swiss World Cup win against Serbia) from Day 1 (Photo. J. HeeB)

Tandi Erlmann, Johannes Heeb and the Cewas team did a great job with the facilitation and event design and also thanks to SDC for their continued financial and thematic support to the event. As well as good for networking – it was also a good international crowd to be around with the World Cup going on!

The final report will be published on where you can find outputs from previous workshops. Most of the presentations and background documents can be on the SDC ResEau website.  Photos from the event can be found here on Flickr.

Below are my sketch-notes of some of the presentations (click/tap to enlarge):

“Monitoring & Data for Rural Water Supplies” (click/tap to open PDF version)


Photos: Johannes Heeb (Cewas) – Main Image: group shot of workshop participants

Why is Groundwater Data important?

by Dr Fabio Fussi, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca

The role of groundwater data in rural water supply has changed markedly in over the last few year:

6th RWSN Forum in Kampala, 2011: Some pilot projects of groundwater data collection and organization is presented. Uganda is presenting its groundwater atlas, a promising example for other countries.

7th RWSN Forum in Abidjan,  2016: there were entire sessions dedicated to groundwater data collection, mapping, analysis and application, with presentation of country programs from national water institutions, some example of international projects to create continental or world groundwater database (e.g. the groundwater atlas of Africa from the British Geological Survey) and application of groundwater data analysis.

What has raised the interest up to this level? There are several factors:

  • Data collection has become easy, with IT tools available in portable devices and smartphones for water point mapping. The increased availability of information has allowed to use these data to take decision about groundwater development and monitoring.
  • Depletion of groundwater resources (both in quantity and quality) requires the definition of sustainable groundwater development strategies and monitoring the effectiveness and impact of their implementation.
  • International donors have an increased interest to support countries to create groundwater information system, and national water institutions have, in several cases, understood the importance to put effort in this.

This seems a promising path for the future to support an effective and sustainable use of groundwater. However there are critical factors that must be taken into consideration:

  1. An increasing amount of data are available, but still there is lack of control in their quality. National databases are full of information, but limited effort is spent to revise them and depurate from mistakes. If this aspect is not properly considered, the risk of incorrect interpretation is high, leading to the formulation of incorrect strategies.
  2. Despite of the huge amount of information and the availability of powerful tools to process it, the level of data analysis to deepen our understating of groundwater system and give a practical support for complex decisions seems still basic. At this time we need creativity, technical capacity and collaboration between decision makers and scientist to unlock the potential of massive groundwater databases.
  3. An unbelievable amount of information is available, held by national water authorities and organizations involved in groundwater development. Most of this information is in hard copy, almost unused, not yet transformed into numeric database. This task is huge and time consuming, but if we can support it, we avoid the risk to loose relevant data and in they can be easily used to take decisions.

In the coming years the effect of climate change and the increase in water needs (due to population growth and improved living conditions) will lead to a more intense exploitation of groundwater resources, whose feasibility and sustainability must be carefully evaluated by a detailed interpretation of reliable data.

charity: water – pushing boundaries for better projects & more accountability

After this year’s ‘Water & Health’ conference at UNC, I visited some organisations along the East Coast of the US. On Wednesday 23rd October, I visited the headquarters of charity: water in New York. The largely open-plan office was quietly buzzing with activity.

charity: water was founded in 2006 by a young night club promoter, Scott Harrison, who decided to put his considerable influencing and networking skills to a new, more productive (as he saw it) purpose.  His idea has been to tap into a different demographic than is usual for charitable donations – those below the age of 40, who have grown cynical of what charities actually achieve. To do this they use social media and celebrity endorsement (charity: water is currently the featured charity of Depeche Mode’s latest tour).  Their hook is a 100% model where all money donated goes directly to projects, implemented by established NGO partners such as Water For People, Water For Good (ICDI), Splash and World Vision.  The completed projects are shown on the website, as part of proving that work has been done.

Continue reading “charity: water – pushing boundaries for better projects & more accountability”