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Published on: 16/06/2018

The World Cup soccer has started. Bookmakers and fans are making projections on which country will get how far and predictions on who will eventually be crowned World Champion on the 15th of July. The day after we will also hear who is the World Champion in WASH. Then, the Ministerial meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will start, where countries will review progress against selected SDGs, the one on WASH, and make commitments for their achievement by 2030. We will thus get insight into which countries are well on track for the finals in 2030, and which ones will make some extra effort towards that.

As a WASH fan, I have been trying to make projections and predictions as well, to see which countries could be WASH SDG champions in 2030. To do that, I have been making of three types of projections:

  • The percentage of the population with access to at least basic services. I have taken the actual data for the period 2000-2015 from the JMP database for all countries around the globe. Using the forecast function in Excel (with exponential smoothing) I then calculated the percentage of population that would have such access for five year intervals up to 2030.
  • The total population that would be un- or underserved by 2030. For this forecast, I used the forecasted population for 2030 - from UN sources - and multiplied those with the projected levels of access from the previous bullet point. 
  • GDP per capita (in 2011 US$ ppp). I used actual data again for the period 2000-2015 and forecasted these into the future, using the Excel forecast function. Of the three types of data, probably this is the most difficult to forecast based on past records. But it still gives an idea of how much wealthier nations may be.

Combining these forecasts, I then looked into the three potential ways in which a country can be a WASH SDG champion:

  • Countries that would see the greatest reduction in people unserved in absolute numbers;
  • Countries that would see the greatest increase in people with access to basic services in a relative sense, i.e. having the highest percentage-point growth in access;
  • Countries that would have the highest level of access for a given level of wealth. As I argued in my first weekly graph, access to WASH services is - in theory at least - closely related to GDP. If a country is richer it can invest more public funds in public services, and households would be able to contribute more to investments and maintenance for these services.

The graph below aims to show the results of this projection for water supply. The x-axis shows the per capita GDP, and the y-axis the level of access to at least basic services. The size of the bubbles indicates the absolute number of unserved. The dark grey bubbles indicate the current situation (i.e. in 2015) and the orange the projected situation by 2030. I have added two lighter grey data bubbles for 2020 and 2025, so as to better show the trajectories that countries follow.

Graph 1: levels of access to at least basic water services by 2030

The graph shows the following:

  • The total size of all the orange bubbles is smaller than the dark blues ones. This is logical as the number of people without access to basic services is projected to decrease from more than 800 million to less than 600 million – and that whilst the World's population will increase from 7.3 billion to 8.4 billion. So the World as a whole would be a winner, though probably not as much as aimed for.
  • China and India would be contenders for the prize for largest reduction of people unserved. China already falls of the chart by 2020, as by then it is projected to reach universal coverage. India would have 94% coverage by 2030, but that still means 86 million people without access to water in India then. Even if India would do better, and have 99% coverage, it would still mean 15 million people without access there. 
  • Fans and bookmakers would not only be interested in the obvious bets, but rather in the more risky ones, of a low likelihood but with big impact. That would be the case in seven countries which are home to about half of the unserved in 2030: Ethiopia, DR Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Angola. These countries have a large population, and have in the past seen slow progress in access in relative terms (Angola, DR Congo, Pakistan and Tanzania) and/or that have a low level of access for their level of wealth (Angola and Nigeria). For that reason, they are now projected to keep on performing poorly. If, however, they somehow improve their rate of access growth, they could have a big impact on the total number of people unserved by 2020. 
  • Another group of unlikely winners of the WASH SDG World Cup 2030 are a number of fragile States: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen and Mali. They are the ones that are projected to see the largest reduction in the percentage of unserved people. However, those projections must probably be taken with a pinch of salt, as they may be as much due to unreliable baseline data – and hence to overly optimistic projections.
  • Finally, a World Cup could be awarded to countries that really have the highest level of access for their level of wealth, i.e. the ones that are really above the curve. Bangladesh would be in the running for winning this prize.

A similar graph was made for sanitation. 

Graph 2: levels of access to at least basic sanitation services by 2030

At first sight, this graph seems to suggest that there would not really be a World Cup winner for sanitation by 2030. Sure, the size of the bubbles of many countries decrease but only marginally. The population without access to basic sanitation would go down from 2.3 to 1.9 billion people, whilst the total population increases. Such a reduction in the number of people unserved is clearly not enough to come even close to universal access to basic sanitation. And countries that do achieve (near) universal access, do so at a much higher level of GDP than for water (not the different scale on the x- and y-axis of the water and sanitation graphs). Still, there are a few countries that would perform relatively well:

  • Just like for water, both China and India would reduce the number of unserved for sanitation by around 200 million each. These are also in relative terms important and significant reductions. But still these two countries would have the most unserved.
  • It is most likely that the World Cup by 2030 for sanitation would go to a country in South - or Southeast Asia. Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam are all countries that would see a substantial reduction in the number of people without access, both in relative and absolute terms.
  • Countries that bookmakers would probably avoid are ones where the orange bubble is larger than the dark blue one. These include DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. In those countries, really a drastic change needs to happen to make significant progress by 2030.

In short, a safe bet for the World Cup SDG6 by 2030 would be for India or China. They could – and should, given their level of wealth – make great strides in reducing the number and percentage of people without basic services. More interesting is what happens with the next group of countries that have the potential to make greatest inroads in the number or percentage of people without basic water supplies. These are all countries that historically have underperformed, or fragile states. And, in sanitation, it is most probable that the World Cup will go to an Asian country, as they are projected to have the greatest reduction in the number of people unserved both in absolute and relative terms. 

Of course, these are all projections based on past performance. And we know that past performance is no guarantee for the future. Just like in soccer, countries that did very well at the last World Cups do not even participate in the current one (including our national team from the Netherlands...). And countries that have never even participated in a World Cup may suddenly surprise everyone, such as Iceland is doing now. The same could hold for WASH. Will Prime-Minister Modi indeed succeed to get India open-defecation free, and move people on to the sanitation ladder? Countries like Benin, Burkina Faso and Rwanda have all made ambitious commitments for WASH, and are putting serious effort and funding into these commitments. So, we will need to carefully monitor how the progress towards 2030 is evolving to see whether the predictions made here will materialise.

For now, number crunching and nerdy WASH graphs will continue. Back to World Cup soccer. May the best team win!


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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