WaSH Performance Index Reveals Unexpected Leaders in Water and Sanitation Progress

Editors Note: This blog post was authored by Ryan Cronk, PhD student researcher at The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which focuses on producing practical and relevant sector knowledge by linking research with policy and practice. In his post, Ryan describes the development of the WaSH Performance Index, which compares progress on WaSH access and equity across countries, and highlights some insights that the 2015 Index reveals.

Ryan Cronk, PhD student researcher at The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

What is the WaSH Performance Index?

The WaSH Performance Index is the first index to rank countries based on water and sanitation performance and on implementation of the human right to water and sanitation. It is the first of its kind in that it compares countries of all sizes, water and sanitation coverage, and income levels. By assessing how countries are improving water and sanitation compared to best-in-class countries at similar levels of water and sanitation coverage, the Index provides a fair comparison of progress.

Why a performance index?

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) are essential to human health and development, and water and sanitation are recognized as human rights. Proposed global targets for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for universal access to WaSH and reducing inequalities in access. The forthcoming SDGs provide potential for convergence of human development and human rights policy.

Monitoring approaches to assess progress toward proposed goals have focused on the level of coverage of water and sanitation. New instruments are necessary to monitor and evaluate country performance on WaSH and to ensure progressive realization of the human right to water and sanitation.

Looking at coverage between countries, such as improved water access in the United Kingdom (100%) and Mozambique (49%), does not provide a meaningful comparison. An improved approach is to compare rates of change of coverage. Countries like Mali have been doing well (improving at 4.3% per year) while countries like Colombia have not been improving (-2.4% per year).

The challenge in comparing rates of change is that countries are at different levels of WaSH development. When comparing levels of coverage with rates of change, we tend to see rates increasing at low levels of coverage, plateau at intermediate levels of coverage, and slow as they approach 100% coverage. To compare countries fairly, we must compare country rates of change to best-in-class rates of change at different levels of coverage.

The WaSH Performance Index meets these needs by comparing country performance on increasing access and equity to best-in-class performance at different levels of water and sanitation coverage. The Index provides insight based on already-available water and sanitation data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. It is designed to accommodate new types of data relevant to the SDGs, such as hygiene, water safety, and non-household settings, as they become available.

The WaSH Performance Index answers two policy questions:

  • How quickly are countries improving access to improved water and sanitation relative to best-in-class performance?; and
  • How quickly are countries improving equity in access to improved water and sanitation relative to best-in-class performance?

What are some of the interesting insights from the 2015 WaSH Performance Index?

  • High-performing countries in the 2015 rankings are those that achieved significant improvement in recent years compared to their peers. These include El Salvador, Niger, Egypt, Maldives, and Pakistan. Low-performing countries are those that showed stagnation or decline in recent years compared to their peers, such as the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Ghana, Samoa, and Timor-Leste.
  • Despite persistently being the region with the lowest water coverage in the world (Figure 1), water access performance among countries in Sub-Saharan Africa varies widely, with both high and low performers (Figure 2). Identifying characteristics of high performing countries and learning from them may enable more rapid progress among countries.

Figure 1. Global water coverage by country (percentage)

Figure 1. Global water coverage by country (percentage)

Figure 2. Country performance in improving water access

Figure 2. Country performance in improving water access

  • Among the most populated countries in the world, Pakistan, China, and Nigeria were top performers (ranked 5, 11, and 18 respectively), while Russia, the Philippines and India were bottom performers (ranked 72, 83, and 92). India’s ranking as a bottom-performer predates the recent launch of the “Clean India Mission” by Prime Minister Modi and suggests his initiative may be even more critical and urgent than originally thought
  • Progress toward equity in sanitation is significantly associated with governance indicators including control of corruption, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and rule of law. These results suggest the enabling environment for WaSH contributes to progress in sanitation equity.
  • Despite the assumption that countries with higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will perform better in improving access to water and sanitation, GDP was not significantly correlated with performance. This means that even countries with limited resources can make great strides if they have the right programs in place. National governments, NGOs, and aid agencies can direct their resources toward building systems and capacity for action in countries that are lagging, and toward implementation where those capacities are in place and performing.

What’s next for the WaSH Performance Index?

In future versions of the WaSH Performance Index, we plan to explore alternate measures of equity such as wealth quintiles and minority groups. We also plan to address levels of service and other important service characteristics such as water safety and continuity. Finally, we plan to develop Index rankings for hygiene, comparing every country with available data.

Where can I learn more about the Index?

You can read the full report here.

We’ve also posted a recorded webcast presentation about the Index online, including remarks from Ed Cain from the Hilton Foundation and a discussion with Vice Chair of Sanitation and Water for All Catarina de Albuquerque.

We would love to hear your feedback and questions about the Index! Please email Ryan at rcronk@live.unc.edu