Skip to main content

Drinking water

Drinking water services refers to the accessibility, availability and quality of the main source used by households for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene and other domestic uses

Safely managed drinking water explainer
SDG baseline estimates for drinking water services from the JMP 2017 report

The new JMP ladder for drinking water

The JMP service ladders are used to benchmark and compare service levels across countries. These have been updated and expanded to facilitate enhanced global monitoring of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. The new ladders build on the established improved/unimproved facility type classification, thereby providing continuity with past monitoring, and introduce new rungs with additional criteria relating to service levels.

Improved drinking water sources are those which, by nature of their design and construction, have the potential to deliver safe water. The JMP subdivides the population using improved sources into three groups according to the level of service provided. In order to meet the criteria for a safely managed drinking water service, people must use an improved source meeting three criteria:

  • it should be accessible on premises,
  • water should be available when needed, and
  • the water supplied should be free from contamination.

If the improved source does not meet any one of these criteria but a round trip to collect water takes 30 minutes or less, then it will be classified as a basic drinking water service. If water collection from an improved source exceeds 30 minutes it will be categorised as a limited service. The JMP also differentiates populations using unimproved sources such as unprotected wells or springs, and populations drinking surface water collected directly from a river, dam, lake, stream or irrigation canal. 

Drinking water ladder

  • Safely managed

    Drinking water from an improved water source which is located on premises, available when needed and free from faecal and priority chemical contamination

  • Basic

    Drinking water from an improved source, provided collection time is not more than 30 minutes for a roundtrip including queuing

  • Limited

    Drinking water from an improved source for which collection time exceeds 30 minutes for a roundtrip including queuing

  • Unimproved

    Drinking water from an unprotected dug well or unprotected spring

  • Surface water

    Drinking water directly from a river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal or irrigation canal

Note: Improved drinking water sources are those that have the potential to deliver safe water by nature of their design and construction, and include: piped water, boreholes or tubewells, protected dug wells, protected springs, rainwater, and packaged or delivered water

Monitoring SDG targets related to drinking water

The Sustainable Development Goals include aspirational global targets to achieve universal access to basic services and to progressively improve the standard of WASH services by 2030 and the JMP is responsible for official reporting on corresponding global SDG indicators related to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (see SDG Monitoring).

The JMP 2017 Thematic Report on Safely Managed Drinking Water considers the implications of SDG target 6.1, 'By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all' and outlines JMP plans for enhanced monitoring of drinking water.

The first section of the report examines the SDG vision for universal access and the specific language used in the formulation of global targets. New ladders for monitoring drinking water services at home, at school and in health facilities are presented, together with proposals for enhanced monitoring of inequalities and affordability.

The second section examines the availability of data on the different elements of safely managed drinking water services and discusses the challenges associated with combining data from different sources in order to track the progressive elimination of inequalities and global progress towards SDG target 6.1.

Water blister pack

Enhancing data collection through household surveys

Household surveys and censuses remain the primary source of information on the different types of facilities used by the population but information on service levels is also collected from administrative sources and regulators (see Data Sources).

The existing JMP core questions for household surveys have been widely used in national household surveys and censuses around the world and have contributed to improvements in the quality and comparability of data collected over the past decade. The JMP is now working closely with international household survey programmes to develop new questions and indicators for enhanced monitoring of drinking water services.

The JMP has collaborated with the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) programme to pilot and field test new questions that address the availability and quality of drinking water. The sixth round of MICS surveys includes a standardised module for direct testing of water quality and updated questions on water, sanitation and hygiene. To date the JMP has supported over 10 countries to integrate water quality testing in national household surveys and many more are planned for 2017-2018 (see Water Quality Monitoring).

Integrating data from administrative sources and regulators

In order to monitor safely managed drinking water services the JMP will increasingly draws on a wider range of national data sources including regulators. During 2016 the JMP supported case studies exploring the integration of regulatory data with information from household surveys in Kenya and Italy. The JMP participated in the annual meeting of the regional association of drinking water regulators in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAWAS) collected valuable data from the European Union’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The JMP also worked with the World Bank’s IB-NET programme to integrate new SDG related information in the latest round of IB-NET data collection.