Drinking Water - a basic need and a human right

Access to water is a right which governments must guarantee their citizens, but it also has a cost. Irrespective of whether water suppliers are public or private, user rights have to be guaranteed. So retaining decentralised, independent control is an essential prerequisite, necessitating reinforced governance mechanisms. It is also crucial for conflict prevention at a time when tension over this vital resource is escalating, as the result of pressures unequalled in the history of mankind. Advances continue to be made towards greater access to safe drinking-water, and although the world is on track to meet the MDG drinking-water target, 883 million people still do not use an improved source of drinking-water. Where drinking-water services exist, poor maintenance and weak management of water supply services often lead to high levels of wastage. The consequences are increased water shortages and reduced and inequitable access to drinking-water - in turn leading to public health problems and conflicts.

Water-related issues have always been of central concern in development cooperation and ever since the creation of the SDC, water supply problems have been a focus of attention of the agency. In line with the MDG number 7, the SDC strives to contribute to reducing by half the number of people without access to clean drinking-water by the year 2015. This requires a marked increase in efficiency of the sector and the mobilisation of additional means. In particular, the sustainability of supply systems and services needs to be improved and new sources of finance must be mobilised. For this to become reality, a stronger involvement and commitment of the civil society stakeholders as well as of the public and private sectors are required.

In order to achieve these objectives, SDC participates in policy discussions both internationally and at country level with the aim to strenghten sustainable strategies and activities in the drinking-water sector. In rural areas, small towns or slums, the SDC applies a demand responsive approach. It is complemented by the involvement of the private sector as provider of services and supplier of spare parts and goods. The local capacities of the sector are promoted which contributes specifically to the on-going decentralisation processes in the partner countries. Geographically, priority is given to rural areas, where water problems are most acute because of the large number of agricultural users, the generally weak services provision and the widespread poverty. Where comparative advantages exist, these priorities are also extended through pilot schemes to improverished urban zones where various forms of financing can be tested.

For more information on SDC’s engagement in the drinking-water sector, please contact Manuel Thurnhofer (* manuel.thurnhofer@deza.admin.ch( +41 31 32 21035).

Selected projects:

solidarit'eau suisse

The water and sanitation challenges require the mobilization of all stakeholders. Against this backdrop, the SDC in partnership with the AGUASAN Group and Swiss NGO's have launched solidarit'eau suisse as a platform to complement and increase their current efforts. On the platform interested swiss municipalities or water utilities can find easily water supply projects of NGOs they can support financially or through their technical know-how. It is the aim to win a large number of municipalities and water suppliers as members and “owners” of the platform. Thanks to that local cooperation the needs of most affected populations – often ignored by bigger projects - are directly addressed and increased awareness concerning the value of reliable water supply and sanitation in Switzerland is reached. Further information on the initiative can be found on the website of solidarit'eau suisse.


Further SDC projects are documented here.


Key partners:


Global partners<>

ISW - International Secretariat for Water

WSP - Water and Sanitation Program (World Bank)

WSSCC - Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council

WWC - Wold Water Council


Swiss partners

SECO - State Secretariat for Economic Affairs



Selected documents:


On The Right Track - Good practices in realising the rights to water and sanitation
February 2012
Author: Catarina de Albuquerque
Defining, analysing, assessing and presenting good practices has been a challenging but uplifting task for the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Through her work, she has found that increased participation, the strengthening of accountability and removal of discriminatory practices is transforming the landscape and making the rights to water and sanitation a reality. She has encountered optimism and determination within communities, local and national government, and international organisations, as well as the vision of a better world where all people, including those who are traditionally excluded, have access to water and sanitation services.
Download (PDF, 3717 KB): [en]  [fr]  [es]  


Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2012 Update
Author: UNICEF / WHO
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, known as the JMP, reports every two years on access to drinking water and sanitation worldwide and on progress towards related targets under Millennium Development Goal 7. This 2012 report is based on data gathered from household surveys and censuses, including both recent and older data sets that have come to the attention of the JMP. The estimates presented here describe the situation as of end-2010 and supersede those of the JMP update published in March 2010.
Download (PDF, 10500 KB): [en]  


Drinking Water: Equity, safety and sustainability - JMP Thematic Report on Drinking Water 2011
Author: UNICEF / WHO
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) monitors progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The JMP publishes a report every two years, which presents an update on the progress made towards reaching the MDG target for drinking water and sanitation. Among the other products of the JMP feature occasional thematic publications. This thematic report on drinking water is designed to complement the main JMP report (WHO/UNICEF, 2010).
Download (PDF, 12072 KB): [en]  


Promising management models of rural water supply services
Author: SDC/Helvetas/Sandec/Skat
This report synthesizes the main outcomes of the 24th AGUASAN Workshop (2008) entitled “Is community management enough to sustain the Millennium Development Goal efforts?”. It describes an analytical framework that can be used to assess the potentials and limitations of rural water supply management models, as a first step towards enhancing the sustainability of rural water supply services. It also highlights key ingredients for success in managing rural water supply services.
Download: [en]


Price of Water / El Precio del Agua
Author: SDC - Swiss agency for development and cooperation
Working paper on Water Costs, Tariffs and Subsidies / Documento de trabajo - El Agua: Costos, Tarifas y Subsidios
Download (PDF, 314 KB): [en]  [es]  


Human Development Report 2006: Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis
Author: UNDP
Throughout history water has confronted humanity with some of its greatest challenges. Water is a source of life and a natural resource that sustains our environments and supports livelihoods – but it is also a source of risk and vulnerability. In the early 21st Century, prospects for human development are threatened by a deepening global water crisis. Debunking the myth that the crisis is the result of scarcity, this report argues poverty, power and inequality are at the heart of the problem.The HDR 2006 continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity.
Download: [en]


All publications & documents of the ResEAU website are grouped here.


Selected links: