The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Target 10 on Water Supply and Sanitation
In September 2000, the world’s leaders gathered at the UN Millennium Summit and 189 nations in total adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, from which emerged the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs form a set of political commitments aimed at tackling the major development issues faced by the developing world, within a fixed deadline.
While almost all the MDGs can be indirectly linked to water supply and sanitation (WSS) issues, Goal 7 on environmental sustainability addresses them directly: one of its targets, Target 10, is to “halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” (access to sanitation has been added following the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit in 2002).
The four sub-components of MDG Target 10 are the following:
- Halve by 2015 the proportion of urban people without sustainable access to safe drinking water;
- Halve by 2015 the proportion of rural people without access to safe drinking water;
- Halve by 2015 the proportion of urban people without access to basic sanitation;
- Halve by 2015 the proportion of rural people without access to basic sanitation.
The baseline year for Target 10 has been set at 1990.
Estimating the costs of achieving MDG Target 10
Numerous reports on the investment level needed to meet the MDGs' targets on water supply and sanitation have been written by international institutions or research institutes, providing an assessment at the global, regional or local level.
They all come to different cost estimates, even though they often rely on the same statistical data (current coverage rates, targeted population, etc) and on common basic definitions. Indeed, the interpretation of Target 10 in terms of technology and level of service is generally based on the definitions given in the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment Report 2000.
It is therefore necessary to compare the calculation methods and underlying assumptions in order to explain the variation in estimates.
Aim and approach of the comparative analysis
Firstly, it must be emphasised that the aim of this comparative study is not to find the “right methodology” or the “best report”. Secondly, this paper does not wish to present a new cost estimate. On the contrary, it highlights the difficulty of comparing the various estimated costs and, more generally, of costing Target 10.
It also identifies:
- conclusions that are common to all the assessment reports;
- factors that create the greatest variations in the estimates;
- potential weaknesses in each calculation method;
- elements overlooked by all the reports and that must imperatively be included, and
- the need for further assessments at the national and sub-national levels.
The comparative study reviews eleven cost assessments at global, regional and national levels. These have been analysed and summarised using a common, detailed format which enables comparison of the investment sectors covered by the assessments, the assumptions used and the methods of calculation.
Main findings and recommendations
Causes for variations in the estimates
The global assessments reviewed range from 9 billion to 30 billion USD per year. The variation between the estimates is largely due to:
(i) problems in defining Target 10: particularly the terms “safe” water and “basic” sanitation need to be clearly specified, with consistent criteria;
(ii) the lack of reliable data reflecting the real situation with respect to WSS: this leads to considerable vagueness and shortcomings in the assessments;
(iii) the different methods and assumptions used, throughout the calculations, to assess the target population for service provision by 2015, the level of service to be implemented and the unit cost of each water supply and sanitation technology. Consequently, it is difficult to compare the estimated costs.
The global assessments of Target 10 fulfilment needs are underestimated
In general, the estimates failed to include in their calculations:
(i) costs for maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement of existing, ageing or neglected infrastructure;
(ii) costs for development of water storage and conveyance infrastructure aimed at providing people with more water resources;
(iii) costs for capacity building, hygiene education, policy planning, monitoring and regulation.
Yet this kind of investment is vital if “sustainable” access to WSS is to be ensured for all, and might be very costly. As a result, the global cost of reaching Target 10 has been underestimated.
Furthermore, the cost assessments reviewed reflect only the economic cost of investment, with no allowance for the way in which the required investments will be financed. This explains why none of the reports reviewed have added the financing charges (interest payments, commissions, commitments fees…) to the cost of the projected infrastructure. Similarly, if local communities, for example in rural areas, contribute their labour to a project, the monetary cost of the investment required will be reduced. The fact that these factors have not been taken into consideration surely lessens the relevance of the MDG cost assessments, if their objective is a “real” funding requirement figure for Target 10 fulfilment.
More funding is necessary in the water and sanitation sector
It must be stressed that Target 10 only covers water for people and not water for agriculture and industry. Moreover, other MDG targets are either directly or indirectly related to water and sanitation issues. For example, the fulfilment of Target 9 on environmental sustainability and the conservation of natural resources implies wastewater treatment, which is extremely costly. Hence, limiting investment requirements in the WSS sector to Target 10 alone is too restrictive.
In any case, additional funding must be allocated to the WSS sector because the investment requirements are larger than evaluated in the reports and current investment in water supply and sanitation in the developing world are estimated at a mere 14 to 16 billion USD per year (GWP 2000, "Camdessus report" 2003). The effort must focus primarily on sanitation, urban areas, and on Sub-Saharan Africa, India and China.
The need for assessments at the country level
Target 10 is particularly difficult to cost at the global level. Besides, given the number of global estimates that already exist, it seems pointless to spend even more time and resources refining them. On the contrary, future efforts should be concentrated on the local level, with more planning and, therefore, assessments at national and sub-national levels. Furthermore, that type of assessment is more accurate and might be more helpful to governments of developing countries and donors as an indicator to determine the amount of public funds or official development aid to be allocated to the WSS sector.
A general agreement on a more comprehensive, standardised calculation methodology that could be used by all to generate results at country level should be encouraged: these results could then be compared with each other.