Recent decline in share of aid to the water and sanitation sector could compromise progress to universal access



Source: OECD CRS[1]

Over the next 15 years, countries aim to deliver universal access to water and sanitation

This is outlined in goal 6 of the sustainable development goals (SDGs): “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030”. The SDGs are a new, universal set targets and indicators that UN member states are expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.[2] They replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed by governments in 2000 and expire at the end of 2015.

Significant improvement in water and sanitation access has been recorded over the past 25 years

The MDG target of halving, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water was met. But 748 million people (10% of the global population) remain without access to improved water sources.[3] Progress to improve sanitation was not sufficient to meet the MDG sanitation target: 75% of the global population with access to improved sanitation facilities.[4] Globally, 2.5 billion people (40% of the population) remain without access to sanitation facilities.[5]

Aid has played an important role in financing improved access to water and sanitation

Global volumes of aid to water and sanitation increased from US$2.6 billion in 2003 to US$6.6 billion in 2013.[6] Aid flows to water and sanitation reached a 10-year high in 2013, recording a steady growth from 2007. Between 2003 and 2013, aid to water and sanitation grew by 158%, outpacing the growth of overall aid to all sectors, which recorded 87% growth.

But more recent years show a reverse in this tendency

Between 2011 and 2013 aid to water and sanitation grew by only 2.5%, falling behind the pace of overall aid, which grew by 10.7%. In line with these trends, the share of aid going to water and sanitation decreased between 2012 and 2013. In 2013, the share of aid to the sector dropped to only 3.9% of overall aid, falling below 4% for the first time since 2009.

Water and sanitation financing should be improved following unmet MDG targets

A majority (80%) of developing countries had insufficient current finance to meet MDG targets for drinking water and sanitation, according to the UN Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) 2014 survey of 94 developing countries.[7] To meet the SDG target of universal access to water and sanitation, countries that lack finance to meet MDG targets will experience an even greater finance gap. If water and sanitation priorities in global aid spending continue to decline, this could compromise the achievement of universal access by 2030.

Download the data in Excel and CSV format

For more information see the WaterAid report 2015 Essential element: why international aid for water, sanitation and hygiene is still a critical source of finance for many countries, which is based on analysis by DI.

Cover photo: Catarina and her granddaughters collect unsafe water, Cuvir Rainha, Niassa, Mozambique. Credit: WaterAid/ Panos/ Adam Patterson.


[1] The OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS) is the main source of data for this analysis. All figures on financial flows are in 2012 prices. Data refers to gross disbursements from all donors. Unlike net ODA, gross ODA disbursements do not take into account ODA loan repayments from recipient countries. Disbursements correspond to the release of funds or the purchase of goods or services for a recipient.


[3] WHO, UNICEF, JMP define an improved drinking-water source as one that, by nature of its construction or through active intervention, is protected from outside contamination, in particular from contamination with faecal matter. ‘Improved’ sources of drinking water include: Piped water into dwelling; piped water to yard/plot; public tap or standpipe; tube well or borehole; protected dug well; protected spring and rainwater.

[4] For MDG monitoring, JMP defines an improved sanitation facility can be: a flush toilet; piped sewer system; septic tank; flush/pour flush to pit latrine; ventilated improved pit latrine (VIP); pit latrine with slab; or composting toilet.

[5] WaterAid (2015) report: Essential element: why international aid for water, sanitation and hygiene is still a critical source of finance for many countries.

[6] The OECD DAC defines aid to water supply and sanitation as including water resources policy, planning and programmes, water legislation and management, water resources development, water resources protection, water supply and use, sanitation (including solid waste management) and education and training in water supply and sanitation.

[7] GLAAS 2014 report: Investing in water and sanitation: increasing access, reducing inequalities. Pages 23–24; 80–83.