Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Safe drinking water for all is important. The drinking water supply and sanitation governance consists of the political, social, economic and administrative systems that directly or indirectly affect the use, development, management and delivery of water supply and sanitation services. How the decisions are made and the roles of power and politics are important issues in governance. Governance systems determine who gets e.g. what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services and their benefits.

Sanitation generally refers to the facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces, including safe storage, transport, treatment, discharge and eventual reuse. Safe sanitation systems promotes human health by way of multiple barriers to prevent disease transmission and faecal contamination. This includes important behavioral barriers like handwashing with soap. Sustainable sanitation emphasizes the containment of substances that are harmful to the environment and the reuse of nutrients.


  • To improve water and sanitation governance structures, towards sustainable delivery of drinking water and sanitation services.

The global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical availability. It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resources management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia, insufficient capacity and a shortage of new investments undermine the effective governance of water and sanitation in many places around the world. Governance of water and sanitation is distributed across many sector and formal and informal institutions. The complexity of decision-making, many times combined with institutional fragmentation, heightens the risks of discrimination, unequal access to water services and sanitation infrastructure.

Furthermore, the lack of sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions is a major obstacle to universal access to WASH. Despite significant investments over the past decades and many unserved people gaining new access to improved water supply and sanitation infrastructure, access to clean water, safe sanitation, and effective hygiene remains a persistent challenge with devastating consequences for individuals, economies and the environment. Unless efforts are made to improve the governance of water and sanitation, problems of unequal provision of services and inappropriate, unaffordable, poorly maintained and poor quality facilities will continue.

Improved drinking water and sanitation governance remain at the heart of the struggle for sustainable human development, growth and poverty reduction. Addressing governance through human rights-based approaches, gender and by improving integrity and transparency, is thus critical.

Furthermore, to achieve effective water and sanitation governance, decision-makers and service providers need to take responsibility for their decisions and services. Well-functioning accountability mechanisms can help to clarify the commitments of actors involved in water and sanitation governance and lead to efficient management of fiscal resources. They can also help protect water resources and increase control over the actions of public and private stakeholders, while ensuring minimum quality standards.

Most countries have embarked on major reforms of water governance. Close to two-thirds of the countries surveyed by UN-Water (2012) have developed integrated water resources management plans, but implementation is limited and uneven. The UNDP Water Governance Facility responds to requests from governments for policy advice and support and works proactively to advance water and sanitation governance.

Through the GoAL WaSH programme the UNDP Water Governance Facility supports governance reform, sector leadership and capacity development in partner countries. The goal is to enhance the performance of the drinking water and sanitation sectors for effective, equitable and sustainable service delivery. GoAL WaSH targets countries with low water and sanitation coverage with a special attention to fragile and post conflict states where donor support to the water and sanitation sectors is often low or non-existent.

In most countries, institutional arrangements for water service delivery are in place: policies, plans and institutions exist, but still; performance remains poor. In this context, accountability, seeking to instill responsibility and improving the quality of relationships between the different stakeholders in service delivery arrangements, is a key element to make these institutional arrangements function as intended. To address this, UNICEF and the UNDP Water Governance Facility have partnered in a new program – “Accountability for Sustainability” – which aims at increasing sustainability of UNICEF-supported WASH interventions through the enhancement of accountability in the service delivery framework at national levels. This program will develop materials and practical guidance for UNICEF country offices and the wider WASH community.

At a community level, the Every Drop Matters programme has piloted small scale solutions to water and sanitation, offering communities an opportunity to take control of the issues impacting upon their lives.


Ms. Lotten Hubendick

Programme Officer


Sanitation, WASH