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The Netherlands' contribution to access to clean drinking water and sanitation in developing countries

Between 2016 and 2022 the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation spent some €670 million on projects to secure access to clean drinking water and sanitation for people in developing countries. The aim is for 30 million people to have access to clean drinking water and 50 million to sanitation facilities by 2030, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

Figuur 5 rapport Resultaten tellen
What is going well What could be improved?
  • Opting for a long-term strategy and concrete goals
  • Direct connections, and broader-ranging projects such as creating a market for facilities
  • Lack of clear instructions on counting
  • Higher prioritisation of policy goal to ensure facilities remain in service for 15 years 
  • Policy on certain aspects is insufficiently detailed

What does the policy involve?

The minister has set policy for the years to 2030 in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) strategy. This is being implemented locally by various non-governmental organisations and multilateral organisations such as UNICEF. It is positive that policy has been set for the longer term and that the goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). As well as physical drinking water and sanitation facilities, projects with a broader scope have been initiated. These include sharing knowledge with water companies on improving a country’s overall water and sanitation systems. Or helping create a market for such facilities. 

What did our audit find?

The minister’s monitoring of progress is based – and consequently reliant – on information provided by organisations implementing the projects. The Court of Audit found, however, that these organisations do not always use the same methods to count the numbers of people benefiting from a project. And there is some double-counting. We also found examples of implementing organisations achieving good results, but results that cannot be aligned with the goal that has been set. 

Figuur 10 rapport Resultaten tellen

While the minister wants only physical connections such as toilets and taps to count, other facilities are sometimes included. And there are no checks.

The minister has also stated that all new drinking water and sanitation facilities should remain in service for at least 15 years. And that means they will need maintenance. But what the minister expects implementing organisations to do is not clear. Who, for example, should check whether a toilet or tap is still working? And who should take action if it is not? From a legal perspective, it is not generally possible to impose any such requirements on the organisations implementing projects. In many cases, therefore, we simply do not know whether facilities are still working. 

Aim of our audit

Our audit focused primarily on whether the picture presented by the minister in the accountability documents correctly reflected reality on the ground. Our work included visiting various developing countries to examine the activities being funded.

Do you have any feedback on this investigation?

We welcome all feedback on our audits and investigations. What do you think about our report? If you have any questions or need further information, mail us at We read all emails carefully and treat them in confidence.