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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686


BAIN, Rob ES et al. Accounting for water quality in monitoring access to safe drinking-water as part of the millennium development goals: lessons from five countries. Bull World Health Organ [online]. 2012, vol.90, n.3, pp.228-235. ISSN 0042-9686.

OBJECTIVE: To determine how data on water source quality affect assessments of progress towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target on access to safe drinking-water. METHODS: Data from five countries on whether drinking-water sources complied with World Health Organization water quality guidelines on contamination with thermotolerant coliform bacteria, arsenic, fluoride and nitrates in 2004 and 2005 were obtained from the Rapid Assessment of Drinking-Water Quality project. These data were used to adjust estimates of the proportion of the population with access to safe drinking-water at the MDG baseline in 1990 and in 2008 made by the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, which classified all improved sources as safe. FINDINGS: Taking account of data on water source quality resulted in substantially lower estimates of the percentage of the population with access to safe drinking-water in 2008 in four of the five study countries: the absolute reduction was 11% in Ethiopia, 16% in Nicaragua, 15% in Nigeria and 7% in Tajikistan. There was only a slight reduction in Jordan. Microbial contamination was more common than chemical contamination. CONCLUSION: The criterion used by the MDG indicator to determine whether a water source is safe can lead to substantial overestimates of the population with access to safe drinking-water and, consequently, also overestimates the progress made towards the 2015 MDG target. Monitoring drinking-water supplies by recording both access to water sources and their safety would be a substantial improvement.

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