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Definition of indicators

Definition of indicators

Progress towards the MDG targets to improve access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation is measured by the proportions of the population using improved drinking-water sources and improved sanitation facilities as defined below. These are proxy indicators. Improved drinking-water sources are more likely to provide safe drinking water than unimproved sources, and improved sanitation facilities are more likely to be sanitary than unimproved facilities. But they are not a direct measure of ‘safe’ drinking water and ‘basic’ sanitation as articulated in the MDG 7 target that calls for halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Improved drinking-water sources may still contain harmful substances, and clean water can be contaminated during transport and storage. Household surveys from which drinking-water coverage data are collected do not provide information on water quality, which requires sanitary inspection of drinking-water sources, as well as physical, chemical and microbial water-quality testing. Thus, the proportion of the population using ‘safe’ drinking water is likely to be lower than that using improved drinking-water sources.

‘Basic’ sanitation facilities are considered the lowest-cost options for safe, hygienic and convenient facilities that prevent the user and his or her immediate environment from coming into contact with human excreta. Public and shared facilities are not considered to be improved and so are not included in rates of coverage.

Drinking-water sources Sanitation facilities
Improved Improved b

Piped water into dwelling, plot or yard
Public tap/standpipe
Tube well/borehole
Protected dug well
Protected spring
Rainwater collection

Flush/pour flush to:
  • piped sewer system
  • septic tank
  • pit latrine
Ventilation improved (VIP) latrine
Pit latrine with slab
Composting toilet
Unimproved Unimproved
Unprotected dug well
Unprotected spring
Cart with small tank/drum
Tanker truck
Surface water (river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal, irrigation channel)
Bottled water a
Flush/pour flush to elsewhere c
Pit latrine without slab/open pit
Hanging toilet/hanging latrine
No facilities or bush/field
  1. Bottled water is considered to be improved only when the household uses water from an improved source for cooking and personal hygiene.
  2. Only private facilities are considered to be improved.
  3. Excreta are flushed to the street, yard or plot, open sewer, ditch, drainage way, channel river or stream.