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How global targets on drinking water were developed and achieved


Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have passed their target year of 2015 and are followed by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the MDG targets was halving the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water. It was the first target achieved in the long history of internationally agreed global targets on drinking water. However, a simplified monitoring indicator could have led to the mistaken conclusion that the MDG target on ‘safe’ drinking water had actually been achieved. We show that the major contributors to the achievement of the MDG target were China and India and that the increase in the percentage of population with access to improved sources was closely associated with economic development in most nations during 1990–2015. We expect that a synergetic relationship between drinking water access and economic development will be consistently true for most nations in the current SDG Target 6.1, which aims to secure safe and affordable drinking water for all.

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Data availability

The datasets analysed during the current study are available from World Bank Open Data ( and WHO/UNICEF JMP Data ( The authors declare that all the data supporting the findings of this study are included in its Supplementary Data Set.

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This work was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (KAKENHI; 16H06291 (T.O.) and 17k17662 (K.N.)).

Author information

S.F. designed the study, conducted data analysis and wrote the paper with contributions from all authors. K.N. and T.O. supervised and supported the research.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Taikan Oki.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Notes 1–4, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Tables 1–12, Supplementary References 1–44

Supplementary Dataset

Data for Fig. 2 in the main text and Supplementary Note 4 — spreadsheets providing 1990 and 2015 data of GDP per capita, population and water coverage for 139 countries

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Increases in urban and rural populations with access to improved water sources, 1990–2015 (excluding developed countries).
Fig. 2: Correlation between real GDP per capita (in constant 2011 International $) and the percentage of the total population with access to improved water sources, 1990–2015.