Black Water

Wastewater from the toilet, which contains heavy fecal contamination and most of the nitrogen in sewage.

Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS)

Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is an innovative methodology for mobilizing communities to completely eliminate open defecation (OD). Communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation and take their own action to become ODF (open defecation free).

Fecal sludge

Fecal sludge is the solid or settled contents of pit latrines and septic tanks.  Fecal sludge differs from sludge produced in municipal wastewater treatment plants. Fecal sludge characteristics can differ widely from household to household, from city to city, and from country to country. The physical, chemical and biological qualities of fecal sludge are influenced by the duration of storage, temperature, intrusion of groundwater or surface water in septic tanks or pits, performance of septic tanks, and tank emptying technology and pattern.


Water from the kitchen, bath, laundry and other domestic activities which should not normally contain much urine or excreta.  (Note that laundry wash water is likely to carry some fecal contamination).


Behaviors related to the safe management of human excreta, such as handwashing with soap or the safe disposal of children’s feces. Hygiene thus determines how much impact water and sanitation infrastructure can have upon health, because it reflects not the construction, but the use, of such facilities.

Improved Drinking Water Source 

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) defines an improved drinking-water source as one that, by the nature of its construction and when properly used, adequately protects the source from outside contamination, particularly fecal matter. As some observers have noted, access to an improved drinking-water source does not always mean the water source is functional, or if it is functional, that it is safe, or that it is being used.

Improved Sanitation Facility

An “improved” sanitation facility is one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact. The definitions used by the JMP are often different from those used by national governments.

The JMP has defined a list of drinking-water and sanitation categories that can be considered improved or unimproved.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals that all 191 UN member states agreed to try to achieve by the year 2015. The United Nations Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000 committed world leaders to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women. The MDGs are derived from this declaration, and all have specific targets and indicators. While the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reports that the safe drinking water goal was met and surpassed in 2010, progress on sanitation fell short.

Off-site sanitation

System of sanitation where excreta are removed from the plot occupied by the dwelling and its immediate surroundings.

On-site sanitation

System of sanitation where the means of collection, storage and treatment (where this exists) are contained within the plot occupied by the dwelling and its immediate surroundings.

Open Defecation (OD)

Open defecation refers to the practice whereby people go out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet to defecate. Learn more at UNICEF’s page on eliminating open defecation.

Open Defecation Free (ODF)

ODF is the termination of fecal-oral transmission, defined by a) no visible feces found in the environment/village; and b) every household as well as public/community institutions using safe technology option for disposal of feces.

Pit latrine

Latrine with a pit for accumulation and decomposition of excreta and from which liquid infiltrates into the surrounding soil.


Sanitation is access to, and use of, excreta and wastewater facilities and services that ensure privacy and dignity, ensuring a clean and healthy living environment for all. “Facilities and Services” should include the ‘collection, transport, treatment and disposal of human excreta, domestic wastewater and solid waste and associated hygiene promotion’ to the extent demanded by the particular environment conditions.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit — officially came into force.  Over the next fifteen years, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

The SDGs build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and aim to go further to end all forms of poverty. While the SDGs are not legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals.  Countries have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review of the progress made in implementing the Goals, which will require quality, accessible and timely data collection.  Regional follow-up and review will be based on national-level analyses and contribute to follow-up and review at the global level.  Find more information at the United Nations site here.

Unimproved Drinking Water Source

Unprotected dug well, unprotected spring, cart with small tank/drum, surface water (river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal, irrigation channels), and bottled water.

Unimproved Sanitation Facilities

Facilities which do not ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. Unimproved facilities include pit latrines without a slab or platform, hanging latrines and bucket latrines.

WASH Technologies 

A variety of technologies exist to provide access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities:

  • Smart water technologies such as wells and rainwater harvesting systems improve access to clean water.
  • Many varieties of sanitation technologies can be implemented at the household or village level to reduce the risk of water-related illness.
  • Improved hygiene practices, such as regularly washing hands with soap and clean water, can prevent the spread of diarrhea and other deadly diseases.
  • Waterless toilets, such as the EcoSan waterless toilet system, do not require any water to function and do not contaminate underground water resources. The system utilizes a natural biological process to break down human waste into a dehydrated odorless compost-like material.
  • See more descriptions of sustainable technology.


The spent or used water from homes, communities, farms and businesses that contains enough harmful material to damage the water’s quality. Wastewater includes both domestic sewage and industrial waste from manufacturing sources.

Water Point

This is a generic term used to describe any point of access to water for domestic uses. This includes a household connection, stand-pipe, well, borehole, spring, rainwater harvesting unit, water kiosk or other point of transaction with a water vendor. The term is used to avoid any bias or confusion regarding certain types of access to water.

See more definitions in the World Bank’s glossary.