Published on The Water Blog

How we help countries track and report on the Sustainable Development Goals on water, sanitation and hygiene

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Enumerators in Ecuador collecting water sample
for water quality test.
Credit: World Bank team in Ecuador

Over the last few years, the international community has been busy establishing new indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which officially replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the period 2015-2030. SDG #6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all, seeks to reduce the incidence of malnutrition, communicable diseases, and inequities that are directly related to lack of access to improved sources of drinking water (affecting 663 million people worldwide) and sanitation (which 2.4 billion people still lack). This new goal implies a commitment by countries to monitor and report on their progress, similarly to what was done for the MDGs, but with much more detail.
From MDGs to SDGs: What’s New for Water and Sanitation? 
Under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), countries were requested to report the coverage of water and sanitation, distinguishing between “improved” and “unimproved” coverage. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), established specific indicators for each, using definitions that could be captured with information from standard household surveys, which typically rely on self-reported questions on access to services collected from a nationally representative sample of households.

While many, if not most countries around the world have household level surveys with questions on water and sanitation, there is tremendous heterogeneity in the quality of information, and the JMP has had to develop a number of tools to harmonize data and build comparable indicators. Still, in many countries, such as Ecuador, standard household surveys do not collect sufficient information to distinguish between “improved” and “unimproved” access without making a few assumptions.

The adoption of the SDGs adds a layer of complexity, as the new indicators are more refined and stricter than MDGs indicators. For SDG #6, new indicators include:
  • Percentage of the population using safely managed drinking water services
  • Percentage of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a handwashing facility with soap and water
To build these indicators, countries need to go beyond self-reported questions. In fact, the new definition of safely managed drinking water requires conducting a water quality test of the source from which the household gets its drinking water; while the inclusion of handwashing facility with soap and water requires conducting eye-witness accounts of the place where household members wash their hands. 
Piloting SDG #6 Measurement: A Field Report from Ecuador 
Ecuador has made significant progress in providing access to improved water and sanitation to its population. Between 1990 and 2015, access to water increased by 41 percentage points, reaching 87%, and sanitation increased by 49 percentage points, reaching 85% of the population. This places Ecuador at the 8 th and 5 th places in progress to increase coverage, among those countries monitored by the JMP.  In spite of the impressive progress, there remains unserved populations that require attention, and a better understanding of what the higher bar of the SDGs means in the Ecuador context.
Water sample incubator used in 
the Ecuador pilot
Through a new global initiative led by the World Bank’s Water and Poverty Equity Global Practices, called the Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic, support is being provided to governments such as Ecuador to better understand the nature of inequality in the provision of WASH services, and to help improve national data collection efforts to track SDG #6.
The strong interest and commitment in the country to improving the measurement and reporting of the SDGs generated a unique opportunity to test a new housing module that includes more accurate questions, a water quality test (presence/absence of fecal matter), and direct observation of the handwashing facility. 
The pilot, conducted during the September wave of the household survey in 2016, has been a model of technical collaboration between Ecuador’s statistical office (INEC), the World Bank, and the JMP. The teams have seamlessly collaborated on the preparation of the questionnaire, the procurement of the special water tests, extensive training sessions with supervisors, and enumerators, and constant feedback to the teams on the ground. 

Following the pilot in September, the full baseline is expected to be collected in the nationwide survey in December of this year. We will be following closely this process and hope that Ecuador will be the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to report on the new SDG #6!


Ana María Oviedo

Senior Economist, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank

Libbet Loughnan

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Statistics and Communications Specialist

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