United Nations Children’s Fund / World Health Organization / The World Bank Group / University of Oxford

WASH affordability: monitoring and response options

Tuesday 28 August | 16.00-17.30 | Room: FH 307

Affordability is one of the normative criteria of the human rights to drinking water and sanitation. Unaffordable services results in tens of millions of poor and vulnerable people excluded on a permanent or temporary basis with high but avoidable costs, particularly for women and girls. Global monitoring of WASH affordability is in its infancy, having been reported for the first time in the 2017 report of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. However, while the commonly used “percent of income or expenditure spent on WASH”, there are weaknesses in this approach. Many governments and utilities have some measures in place to address unaffordable price of services for certain population groups. These experiences need to be better understood to utilize them for informing and expanding future responses. This event therefore brings together international agencies, academicians, governments and others to explore how to resolve the issues of measurability and monitoring of WASH affordability, and of how to better implement and measure the impact of different responses to unaffordable WASH services.


16:00 Welcome and introduction to global initiative on the monitoring of WASH affordability

Presenter: Guy Hutton, UNICEF

16:15 WASH affordability measures in the 2018-19 GLAAS Survey

Presenter: Fiona Gore, WHO

16:20 Debate: contrasting perspectives on affordability

Moderator: Richard Johnston

• Law/rights: Luke Wilson, Center for Water Security and Cooperation, USA

• Economic: Marie Angelica Sotomayor, The World Bank

• Regulator: Peter Mutale, National Water Supply and Sanitation Council, Zambia

• Demand and user behavior: Rob Hope, University of Oxford, UK

17.00 Question and Answer

Moderator: Richard Johnston

17:20 Ways forward

Presenter: Tom Slaymaker

17:30 End of session


This event explored the issue of affordability of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). It covered the issues in defining and measure what is an affordable (or unaffordable) WASH service, how a preferred definition might be monitored globally, and how governments and service providers can respond to unaffordable WASH services. The session began with an introduction to the global initiative on the monitoring of WASH affordability convened by JMP/GLAAS, and an introduction to questions on affordability measures covered in the GLAAS 2018/2019 country survey. The panel reflected different views on affordability, from the human rights and legal standpoint, from a  regulator, a development bank and an academic. Concluding remarks picked up on some of the key issues (1) while there is consensus around the need to monitor affordability, there is a need to more clearly define policy objectives relating to affordability vis-a-vis financial sustainability; (2) the need for better data on expenditure and costs; (2) the importance of affordability monitoring for understanding the nature and scale of the problem determining response options, (3) the consensus emerging that WASH expenditure as a % of income does not measure affordability per se, (4) tabulating inequalities in expenditure by service level is critical in understanding what is taking place and what are the unmet needs, and (5) much of the discussion centered around water rather than sanitation, possibly as it is easier to capture expenditure, but this imbalance needs to be redressed.