Water safety planning is a comprehensive risk assessment and risk management approach that encompasses all steps in a drinking-water supply chain, from catchment to consumer. A Water Safety Plan (WSP) is a plan to ensure the safety of drinking water through this approach.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises WSP as the most reliable and effective way to manage drinking-water supplies to safeguard public health. WSPs provide a proactive approach to ensure water safety through good management of the complete water supply system. This involves understanding the complete system, identifying where and how problems could arise, putting barriers and management systems in place to stop the problems before they happen and making sure all parts of the system continue to work properly.
The successful development and implementation of WSPs can help improve the understanding of the water supply system, improve stakeholder collaboration, improve operational efficiencies of the utility and provide a robust framework to better target more sustainable long-term capital investments.
To assist water service providers in developing and implementing WSPs, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Water Association (IWA) developed a WSP manual in 2009. Following global uptake of WSP and over 10 years of practical experience, an updated WSP manual was developed in 2023 to provide guidance on the integration of climate resilience and equity into the water safety planning approach, to help support access to safely managed drinking-water services for all users, despite growing uncertainties from a changing climate.
WSP implementation results in a better understanding of water supply systems and potential risks to public health. The risk prioritization process assists decision-makers at all levels in maximizing public health protection with available resources.
WSPs facilitate the identification of appropriate barriers to contamination that do not overly focus on expensive treatment processes, but rather consider a range of options.
As WSPs are based on risk assessment of the system and result in a short, medium and long term investment/upgrade plan, they provide a reliable means for governments, donor agencies and international financing institutes to maximize current and future investments.
WSPs help improve water suppliers’ knowledge and management of the entire water supply system, thereby enabling them, for example, to develop more efficient operating procedures and respond faster to potential incidents.
Stakeholder cooperation is an implicit part of WSPs; Water Safety Planning facilitates appropriate institutions to collaborate in making well-informed decisions on the strategic, financial, operational and regulatory aspects of drinking water quality management.
Since the inclusion of WSP in international reference documents in 2004 (3rd Edition of the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality and the International Water Association’s Bonn Charter for Safe Drinking Water), IWA has partnered with WHO to promote and support the development of WHO resources on WSP using the expertise of IWA members.
Water Safety Portal
WHO and IWA developed a the Water Safety Portal to promote WSPs, enable sharing of resources and knowledge and provides up-to-date news and events related to WSP. Learn more on the WSPortal.
Operation and Maintenance Network
An ongoing collaboration between the National Institute of Public Health of Japan (NIPH), WHO and IWA is the Operation and Maintenance Network (O&M Network). The O&M network aims to contribute to the sustainability of water and wastewater services, and through that public health, by improvements to operation and maintenance in water and wastewater services in developing countries To explore the Resources in the O&M Network, follow this link.
Since 2011, IWA has coordinated projects supporting the implementation of WSPs in various countries with a strong focus on sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of the projects was to improve water supply safety through WSP implementation in water suppliers, also build a critical mass of expertise, tools and case studies to catalyse large scale WSP implementation.
Past and current projects include:
Water Safety Planning in East Africa (2011 – 2016)
With Support from United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), IWA coordinated a program of activities to support Water Safety Plan (WSP) implementation in the East Africa with the goal of establishing a sound basis for scaling up WSP implementation in Africa. The supported utilities were Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company Limited (KIWASCO), Mwanza Urban Water and Sewerage Authority (MWAUWASA), the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), Kigoma Urban Water Supply & Sanitation Authority (KUWASA), Masasi Nachingwea Water Supply and Sanitation Authority (MANAWASA), Mombasa Water Supply & Sanitation Company and Moshi Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Authority,
With support from OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), IWA supported the development and implementation of water safety plans and low-cost interventions to improve the safety of water supplies and health of communities in six west African countries-: Ghana, Liberia , Sierra Leone , Burkina Faso , Guinea and Senegal
With support from OFID, IWA is working on a Climate resilient WSP project which focuses on addressing how utilities through WSP can better prepare and respond to extreme weather events; as well as undertaking strategic awareness approaches to involve key ministries in supporting the institutionalisation of WSP within countries. The project is implemented in the following countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal
The Flood and Drought Management Tools (FDMT) project developed the Flood and Drought Portal (www.flooddroughtmonitor.com) with technical applications to support planning from the transboundary basin to water utility level by including better information on floods and droughts into planning. The portal includes a WSP tool which is an entry point to prompt utilities to consider climate information and the risks of floods and droughts in their planning procedures.
WSP Specialist Group
The IWA WSP Specialist Group disseminates practical knowledge in WSP implementation to the key stakeholders involved in delivering safe drinking water, including water suppliers, regulatory authorities, catchment management authorities, health organisations and the international water community at large.
To find out the latest on what IWA members and partners are doing on WSP, join or follow the IWA Connect group on Water Safety Planning.