Assessing Drinking Water Quality and Water Safety Management in Sub-Saharan Africa Using Regulated Monitoring Data

Environ Sci Technol. 2016 Oct 18;50(20):10869-10876. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02707. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Universal access to safe drinking water is prioritized in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Collecting reliable and actionable water quality information in low-resource settings, however, is challenging, and little is known about the correspondence between water quality data collected by local monitoring agencies and global frameworks for water safety. Using 42 926 microbial water quality test results from 32 surveillance agencies and water suppliers in seven sub-Saharan African countries, we determined the degree to which water sources were monitored, how water quality varied by source type, and institutional responses to results. Sixty-four percent of the water samples were collected from piped supplies, although the majority of Africans rely on nonpiped sources. Piped supplies had the lowest levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) compared to any other source type: only 4% of samples of water piped to plots and 2% of samples from water piped to public taps/standpipes were positive for FIB (n = 14 948 and n = 12 278, respectively). Among other types of improved sources, samples from harvested rainwater and boreholes were less often positive for FIB (22%, n = 167 and 31%, n = 3329, respectively) than protected springs or protected dug wells (39%, n = 472 and 65%, n = 505). When data from different settings were aggregated, the FIB levels in different source types broadly reflected the source-type water safety framework used by the Joint Monitoring Programme. However, the insufficient testing of nonpiped sources relative to their use indicates important gaps in current assessments. Our results emphasize the importance of local data collection for water safety management and measurement of progress toward universal safe drinking water access.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Drinking Water / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Safety Management
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Quality
  • Water Supply*


  • Drinking Water