The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

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Guy Hutton and Mili Varughese

A dedicated goal for water has recently been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly as part of the sustainable development goal (SDG) framework. This study provides an assessment of the global costs of meeting the WASH-related targets of Goal #6. The targets assessed include achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all (target 6.1), achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and ending open defecation (target 6.2). The estimates include 140 countries, or 85% of the world's population, focusing on developing countries. Costs estimated cover those of capital investment, program delivery, operations, and major capital maintenance.


A goal dedicated to clean water and sanitation was recently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework for 2015–2030 that has followed the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (UN General Assembly 2015). Drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene form a central part of the clean water and sanitation goal (SDG 6) and are reflected especially in targets 6.1 to 6.3. They are also recognized for their role in reducing health risks as part of the good health and well-being goal (SDG 3) in targets 3.3 and 3.9.

The means by which the SDGs will be achieved are spelled out in SDG 17 in 19 different targets covering financing, technology, capacity building, trade, and systemic issues. Although these issues are all key interrelated components of the delivery mechanism, each requires a detailed assessment in order for countries to understand how the ambitious goals and targets laid out in the SDGs can be achieved over the next 15 years. As a pre-condition for assessing the financing mechanisms and sources for achieving the targets, the costs of meeting the targets need to be better understood.

Objective of This Study

This study assesses the global costs of meeting the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH)-related targets of SDG 6. It is intended to serve as a vital input to determining the financing needs to achieve them. Two targets are assessed: (1) achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all (target 6.1); and (2) achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation (target 6.2). Thus this study presents only a partial analysis of the clean water and sanitation goal, but it can serve as a basis for cost studies of other targets.


This study estimates the costs of extending two levels of WASH services to unserved households. The proposed indicators for targets 6.1 and 6.2 aspire to “safely managed” WASH services1 —for water supply this means an on-plot water supply for every household and for sanitation it includes a toilet with safe management of fecal waste. As a step toward safely managed services, the costs of achieving lower-level services are also estimated because many countries still have to provide basic WASH to their populations.

Basic water supply includes an improved community water source within a 30-minute round-trip; basic sanitation includes an improved toilet; and basic hygiene includes a hand-washing station with soap and water for every household. The costs of ending open defecation through simple, traditional, lower-cost latrines are also estimated. Appendix A provides further details.

Estimates of populations to be served in rural and urban areas by 2030 are based on coverage estimates of WASH services for 2015 (as the baseline year), taking into account population growth and internal migration. The majority of the world’s low- and middle-income countries are included, as well as selected high-income countries that have low coverage of basic WASH services. The 140 countries included represent 85 percent of the world’s population (see appendix B). Current coverage figures under these definitions and the unserved population to be reached to achieve universal coverage by 2030 appear in table 1. Coverage has been projected to the year 2015 using 2013 estimates and trends under the new definitions (see appendix A).

The costs estimated are those for capital investment, program delivery, operations, and major capital maintenance to sustain the life span of the infrastructure created. The costs include only those of extending services to the unserved in 2015, and exclude the costs of maintaining access for those already served by a given service level in 2015. For the purposes of this study, for basic WASH a mix of lower-cost technology options were selected. These included community wells for water supply, improved latrines for sanitation, and a basin with water and soap for practicing hand washing. Higher-cost options such as piped water and sewerage were included as options under safely managed services.

The costs of meeting the WASH-related SDG targets by 2030 will depend on the pathway for scaling up services. Realistically, many households will first become open defecation–free with an unimproved toilet facility and only later upgrade to a latrine that safely isolates waste. Similarly, many households, especially in rural areas, are likely to receive an improved water supply from a community source before being upgraded to a household water supply (for example, piped supply or an on-plot well). Thus the results are presented under lower- and upper-cost scenarios, and in the baseline 50 percent of households are assumed to go straight to a higher level of service, while the remaining 50 percent pass through unimproved sanitation or basic water before a higher-level service is attained.

Cost data were obtained through an extensive search of the peer-reviewed published literature, project documents, and agency reports. For larger countries, unit costs were validated by in-country experts and adjusted where a discrepancy was found with the country experience. For countries lacking data on unit costs, cost data were extrapolated from the most similar country with cost data, adjusting for the difference in income level (using purchasing power parities as the basis for adjustment).

Because this study requires multiple input parameters, each of which has data weaknesses, the resulting estimates carry a high degree of uncertainty. Thus a range is presented on all calculated costs to reflect variations in the selected parameters. Appendix C provides a list of the variables used in the analysis, the associated levels of uncertainty of each, and indicates which variables were varied in sensitivity analysis. Further details of the costing methods are provided in a longer version of this report.