Sanitation – The Numbers’ Game (when JMP figures are different from what exist on the ground)

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  • F H Mughal
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Sanitation – The Numbers’ Game (when JMP figures are different from what exist on the ground)

Sanitation – The Numbers’ Game

According to the best estimates, rural water coverage (safe and wholesome water) in Pakistan, currently, would be of the order of 15 per cent, while current sanitation coverage in rural areas would be 10 per cent (proper sanitation, broadly speaking – improved sanitation as JMP* would call).

As against this, according to the JMP estimate of April 2014 for Pakistan, the corresponding figures for the year 2012 are 23 per cent (rural water) and 34 per cent (rural sanitation), respectively. The question is: why are the JMP’s figures inflated, and what purpose these inflated figures would serve (barring pleasing the government!!)

In our case, this is the root cause of the problem. Let me explain it through a water example.

Rural water supply projects, when submitted to the government for approval, require filling a proforma that asks about the number of people that will be benefited from the project. Water consumption per capita per day is shown on a lower side, and this increase the size of the population benefited, way beyond the reasonable figure. For example, water demand is taken as 5 liters/day per capita; thus a water treatment plant of 4,000 cubic meters per day will serve 0.8 million people, which is an incorrect estimation.

The incorrect and out-of-proportion population figures are transmitted to federal government, which in turn, are forwarded to the international agencies, giving incorrect population figures of rural population that have access to water supply facilities. In practice, not even one-quarter of population, reported by the federal government, have access to safe water.

JMP seems to be drawing on the government’s figures and government-sponsored surveys and, doesn’t bother to have real assessments that reflect ground conditions.

A recent paper, titled: Global Monitoring of Water Supply and Sanitation: History, Methods and Future Challenges, authored by Jamie Bartram, Clarissa Brocklehurst, Michael B. Fisher, Rolf Luyendijk, Rifat Hossain, Tessa Wardlaw and Bruce Gordon (attached), has this to say in the abstract (in part):

“The experiences of the MDG period generated important lessons about the strengths and limitations of current approaches to defining and monitoring access to drinking water and sanitation. The methods by which the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of WHO and UNICEF tracks access and progress are based on analysis of data from household surveys and linear regression modelling of these results over time. These methods provide nationally representative and internationally comparable insights into the drinking water and sanitation facilities used by populations worldwide, but also have substantial limitations: current methods do not address water quality, equity of access, or extra-household services. Improved statistical methods are needed to better model temporal trends.”

There is still unresolved debate on what constitute improved water facilities and improved sanitation facilities. But, leaving aside that debate, what is the point in reporting figures that do not match the ground realities.

I wonder, whether there are similar cases in other countries, where JMP figures are different from what exist on the ground.

F H Mughal

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* Note by moderator (EvM) for novices: JMP stands for Joint Monitoring Programme of UNICEF and WHO and monitors progress towards the water/sanitation goal as part of the Millennium Development Goals framework.
F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan

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  • Florian
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Re: Sanitation – The Numbers’ Game

F H Mughal wrote: The incorrect and out-of-proportion population figures are transmitted to federal government, which in turn, are forwarded to the international agencies, giving incorrect population figures of rural population that have access to water supply facilities. In practice, not even one-quarter of population, reported by the federal government, have access to safe water.

JMP seems to be drawing on the government’s figures and government-sponsored surveys and, doesn’t bother to have real assessments that reflect ground conditions.


F H Mughal

JMP uses data collected in household surveys, that are carried out according to standardised methods worldwide. E.g. Social and Living Standards Surveys or Demographic and Health Surveys. In the JMP country sheets you can look up the sources of the data, the type of survey, the data used, and how estimates are drawn from them.

Of course the surveys are carried out not by JMP directly but by the countries agencies (e.g. statistical offices), but I don't think they are generally and consciously falsificated in the way you seem to assume.

Of course there are plenty of other flaws attached to the JMP monitoring systems, such as the lack of measuring quality and sustainability of services. So in the end it remains a number game, true.

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