Sanitation targets are off-track: DOH, WHO and UNICEF ask local governments to invest in sanitation

19 November 2020

MANILA, Philippines, 19 November 2020 – The world is alarmingly off-track to deliver sanitation for all by 2030. Unfortunately, the Philippines is on the same trajectory. At the current rate of global progress, safely managed sanitation for all will not be a reality until the twenty-second century.

Around 50.3 million Filipinos (around 10 million families) do not have access to safely managed sanitation services1, and of these some 24 million use limited/unimproved toilets or none at all2. Safely managed sanitation means the use of improved toilet facilities which are not shared with other households and where the excreta are safely disposed on-site, or are transported and treated off-site.

“Implementing the Sustainable Development Goal on sanitation is an investment but inaction brings us even greater costs. Untreated waste from poor sanitation services has negative effects on the environment and can spread diseases that cause poor health and nutrition, loss of income, decreased productivity and missed educational opportunities,” said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in the Philippines.

“Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, our problem in sanitation is readily solvable. Technologies and approaches are available and just waiting for us to make the first step to invest. Only by leveraging government resources with household investments and private sector support would we be able to reach as many communities in the fastest time possible. We have seen this partnership at work for COVID-19, we must do the same for sanitation,” said Health Secretary, Dr. Francisco T. Duque III.

To reach the national targets of universal access to sanitation, an average investment of PhP 30 billion per year is needed3. This is 13% of the additional internal revenue allotment that local government units will receive by 2022, valued at PhP225.3 billion per year4.

“Let us not wait for another outbreak or pandemic before we prioritize sanitation. The recent typhoons in the Philippines have shown how vulnerable our toilets and the sanitation systems they are connected to are. This impacts children greatly and will only get worse as the impacts of climate change increase. Achieving universal and sustainable access to safely managed sanitation may be difficult, but it is not impossible. It begins with strong political will at both the national and local government levels to mobilize the investments required, build a larger workforce with better skills, and encourage innovation and data-based decision-making,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Representative.

With the theme “Toilets for Every Juan: Bida ang Pamilyang Gumagamit ng Kubeta!,” for this year’s World Toilet Day event, DOH, in partnership with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, encourage local governments and key stakeholders to make every effort to ensure that sanitation coverage extends to entire communities in all settings and not just households.

In 2019, DOH issued the guidelines on implementing the Philippine Approach to Sustainable Sanitation (PhATSS) which assesses and certifies the level of sanitation services delivered by each local government unit.

Based on the 2019 Field Health Services Information System, one-third of the 42,046 barangays in the Philippines have been certified as having abandoned the practice of open defecation in their communities. Despite this progress, among 1,634 cities and municipalities in the country, only 6% have achieved municipal-wide Zero Open Defecation (ZOD) status (or Grade 1 sanitation certification).

Furthermore, Basic Sanitation Status (Grade 2 sanitation certification) has been given to over 300 barangays across the country and in two municipalities in Maguindanao, where improved sanitation facilities are now available not only in each household, but also in every public institution and public place in the communities.

1Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2017. Special focus on inequalities. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization, 2019.


3International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The World Bank, Water Supply and Sanitation in the Philippines: Turning Finance into Services for the Future, 2015. Last accessed from

4Rosario G Manasan, Discussion Paper Series N0. 2020-18: Fiscal Sustainability, Equity, and Allocative Efficiency in the Light of the 2019 Supreme Court Ruling on the LGUs’ Share in National Taxes, Philippine Institute for Development Studies, June 2020. Last accessed from 

Additional information

  • The 2019 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey shows that four out of five families (81.6%) are already using improved sanitation facilities that are not shared with other households. However, 1.8 million families (or 9 million Filipinos) are still using unimproved toilets or none at all. The top three regions with the highest percentage of families with no toilet facility or still practicing open defecation were BARMM (16.1 percent), Bicol (11.5 percent), and Eastern Visayas (8.9 percent).
  • Based on the WHO / UNICEF JMP 2019 report on WASH in schools, only 39% of school-aged children in the Philippines at the time of survey had access to single-sex and usable sanitation facilities at school.
  • Sanitation plays a vital contribution to the overall health and wellbeing of communities. 297,000 children under five are estimated to die each year from diarrheal disease because of unsafe water and sanitation services and hygiene practices.
  • The impacts of poor sanitation disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, particularly women and people living with disabilities. 
  • Information available from 2001-2007 indicates that only about 0.03% of the Philippines’ GDP was spent on sanitation. (World Bank, 2015)
  • DOH, WHO and UNICEF is holding an online World Toilet Day 2020 Celebration on November 19, from 9AM to 12NN. This will be followed by a Sanitation Learning Exchange webinar series on November 23, 25 and 27 (09.00AM-,11.00AM) where challenges and innovations to sustainable sanitation will be discussed. All these events will be streamed live on DOH Facebook page.

Media contacts

Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho
Director IV, Health Promotion Bureau
Department of Health
Tel: 8651-7800 local 2830, 2825
Niko Wieland
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 917 867 8366

About the Department of Health 

The Department of Health (DOH) is the country's principal health agency, holding the over-all technical authority on health as a national health policy-maker and regulatory institution, and responsible in ensuring access to basic public health services through the provision of quality healthcare and the regulation of providers of health goods and services.

For more information about Department of Health (DOH), visit Follow DOH Philippines on Facebook and Twitter.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit

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About the World Health Organization 

The World Health Organization is working with the Philippines Department of Health and other sector agencies to ensure safe water for all through the development and implementation of water safety planning, strengthening systems and capacity for drinking-water quality surveillance and monitoring, and improvement of water, sanitation, and hygiene in health care facilities.

For more information about WHO and its work in the Philippines, visit Follow WHO Philippines on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.