Water and Sanitation

The global water and sanitation crisis is often not caused only by lack of water. It is rooted in poverty, inequality and is primarily a crisis of governance. Governance of water and sanitation is complex, involving many sectors and both formal and informal institutions. Despite significant investments over the past decades, many obstacles remain.


The quality of freshwater is rapidly deteriorating in many parts of the world. Almost all rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America have become more polluted since the 1990s.  At the same time, demands and pressures on water resources are growing in magnitude and complexity. Water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1 percent per year since the 1980s, and global water demand is expected to continue increasing at a similar rate until 2050, accounting for an increase of 20 to 30 percent above the current level of water use. Vulnerable groups are still underserved, and many facilities are poorly maintained or offer services of poor quality.

To address the global water crisis, we must pay more attention to the linkages between water resources and drinking water and sanitation services. The Sustainable Development Goal 6, “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, has targets on drinking water (6.1), and sanitation (6.2) as well as on water quality, water management and ecosystems. To achieve the goal, the targets cannot be addressed in isolation.

Improved drinking water and sanitation governance remain at the heart of the struggle for sustainable human development and poverty reduction. It is crucial to address governance through the lenses of gender and human rights-based approaches, and by improving integrity and transparency..

Decision-makers and service providers need to take responsibility for their decisions and services. Well-functioning accountability mechanisms can clarify the commitments of actors involved in water and sanitation governance and lead to efficient management of fiscal resources. Accountability helps 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. WGF supports governments with policy advice and works proactively to advance water and sanitation governance.

We need a more integrated and holistic approach to water resources management (WRM) and the provision of services related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Today, these two sectors often work in “silos”, despite the clear interlinkages which demand cooperation. This kind of “WRM-WASH fragmentation” can happen at any level, from global to local, and at basin, catchment and watershed levels.


To increase the understanding of these interlinkages, WGF has partnered with UNICEF to conduct a study on WRM-WASH linkages. The overall objective of the study is to strengthen WRM and WASH sector cooperation. This will make it possible to  accelerate and sustain progress towards resilient and sustainable water and sanitation services and the conservation and protection of water resources. Close collaboration between the WRM and the WASH sectors can lead to important progress on three global agendas: the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The study:

  • Provides the rationale for the need to strengthen WRM-WASH cooperation
  • Establishes and explores the WRM-WASH linkages and related cooperation areas
  • Makes recommendations for strengthened WRM-WASH cooperation, including in the context of SDG 6 acceleration and the related SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework.

Updates on the results of the study will be published on this page.

Sanitation generally refers to facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces, including safe storage, transport, treatment, discharge and eventual reuse.

Safe sanitation systems  prevent the spread of disease which is often linked to faecal contamination. Human behaviour, like handwashing with soap, is especially important. Sustainable sanitation emphasizes the containment of substances that are harmful to the environment and the reuse of nutrients. Sanitation governance refers to the rules, roles and relations that make sanitation systems work,  at what cost and for whom. Rural and urban sanitation systems differ, but there are also important differences between high- and low-income areas.

With the right   governance structure, all parts of the system, including technology, work effectively together. Today, the responsibility for sanitation is also fragmented between too many different sectors and line ministries.

There might for example be one ministry  responsible for sewerage and construction aspects, another for housing construction regulation, and a third for r hygiene and sanitation.

To improve governance, it is important to analyse how the sector actually works when situations change. Another top priority should be to raise the status of sanitation workers.


Dr. Alejandro Jiménez

Programme Director


Accountability, integrated sanitation, integrated water sanitation hygiene, Sanitation, Sanitation services, SDG 6, Sustainable Development Goals, WASH, wash governance, Wastewater, Water, Water management, Water supply