Photo: Inequity in water distribution, Lima, Peru - Guillermo Gutierrez - Shortlisted WIN photo competition 2020

Water Integrity Global Outlook 2021: Urban Water and Sanitation

Integrity is essential to reach SDG6 and SDG11

The new Water Integrity Global Outlook 2021: Urban Water and Sanitation (WIGO 2021) report shares paths to address massive, long-term impact in cities of corruption in water and sanitation.


The global urban population (today already 4,2 billion people) is increasing rapidly and with it the number of people living in informal settlements, often referred to as ‘slums’. All urban residents, including those in informal settlements need water for life and sanitation for dignity. However, access to essential services is not keeping up with needs.

Today already 1.5 billion people don’t even have access to adequate toilets. Rates of progress since 2015 to achieve SDG6 must increase at least 4 times to reach targets. Many people in poorer neighbourhoods pay 2 to 5 times more for water than richer neighbours and services to wealthier neighbourhoods are disproportionately subsidised and supported. Corruption and integrity failures are making matters worse, siphoning off needed resources and capacity, and impacting the lives of city residents and the sustainability of water and sanitation services. Horrifyingly, some recent studies suggest 1 in 5 women in several regions are forced to pay for essential services with sex, or know someone who has.

Recent 2021 floods across the globe, from the United States to China, have shown that cities are unprepared to deal with rising water sector threats linked to climate change, despite advanced warning and resources. Recent droughts, are stark reminders of the possibility of more ‘day zeroes’ for cities running out of water. And the COVID 19 pandemic response has brought to light more evidence of our vulnerability to corruption in emergency situations.

Cities need clean water and sanitation to build resilience. Clean water needs clean governance and safeguards from corruption. Integrity in urban water and sanitation is a means to address the compounding risk cities face in terms of water.


Integrity Champions around the world are strengthening water and sanitation systems

Water integrity is using vested powers and resources ethically and honestly to ensure people have access to equitable and sustainable water and sanitation services. It’s an aspiration, a way forward. And, there really is no other way: water and sanitation are too important to leave them unprotected from poor integrity, corruption, and malpractice.

The new WIGO 2021 report shares cases studies and examples of how everyone from mayors to residents, from utilities to civil society, and from WASH officials to funders and the media, can take steps towards integrity. It’s possible to put in place very practical measures for Transparency, Accountability, Participation, and Anti-Corruption. These are the building blocks of integrity.

The former mayor of La Paz, Bolivia, implemented a strong anti-corruption programme with zero tolerance policy for corruption and rewards for civil servants working with integrity. Utilities in Bangladesh, Peru, and Mexico, are using new integrity indicator frameworks to better understand and mitigate integrity risks, becoming more responsive to user feedback and streamlining accounting or procurement processes. In South Africa, organisations like the International Budget Partnership are working with residents of informal settlements to monitor sanitation service levels and contribute to filling the gap in data and statistics that leaves people behind and out of the system. ControlaTuGobierno in Mexico is holding water and sanitation sector officials to account by reviewing supreme audit report findings. Some WASH organisations are getting started by organising safe spaces to discuss corruption issues internally or engaging with local communities through survey tools to increase downward accountability.

In the coming months, WIN and its network partners will collaborate on initiatives to promote WIGO’s key recommendations and motivate new integrity champions for water and sanitation.


It’s Essential. Make a difference for your city, become an Integrity Champion!


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