Use of Safely Managed Drinking Water Services

Fecal pathogens in the environment easily and often contaminate water. When this contaminated water is used for drinking, food preparation, or other household uses, it can cause intestinal infections, inflammation of the gut, or micronutrient deficiencies by reducing micronutrient absorption. Safely managed services include basic water sources located on the premises, available when needed, and free of fecal and priority chemical contamination.

Use of these basic (previously known as “improved”) drinking water sources can reduce the risk of acquiring waterborne infections. While many types of sources fall into this category, the main focus is ensuring that the water comes from a known, uncontaminated origin, and is transported to the household in a way that ensures it is always safe and available.

Safely managed drinking water sources include the following (UN-Water 2016):

  • piped water into dwelling, yard, or plot
  • boreholes or tubewells
  • protected dug wells
  • protected springs
  • rainwater.

Measurement and data sources

Data collectors usually observe—although some surveys may rely on respondents’ descriptions—the water source the household can access or use.

Surveys usually report the percentage of the population using a basic (or improved) drinking water source. The new Sustainable Development Goals include a target indicator (sanitation target 6.1.1) for the percentage of the population using safely managed drinking water services (UN Statistical Commission 2016). This builds on the Millennium Development Goal indicator that measured the percentage of the population using an improved drinking water source.

Surveys that collect information related to the use of safely managed drinking water services include—

  • Demographic and Health Surveys
  • Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys
  • National Micronutrient Surveys
  • Knowledge, Practice, and Coverage Surveys
  • other research or evaluation activities.

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation maintains a database of information on the coverage of water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.

Methodological issues

  • Classification of water sources can vary slightly between survey instruments; make sure you understand how the indicator is defined.
  • Categorization of a source as “safely managed” is a proxy indicator of safe drinking water, because it includes testing water quality—therefore, including water quality testing for fecal contamination and priority chemicals is needed to confirm drinking water quality (UN-Water 2016).