The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) 2017 Update and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Baselines report classified 71% of the global population as having access to ‘safely managed’ drinking water. Current global monitoring efforts to track access to safely managed drinking water rely on collecting information on the ‘primary’ source of drinking water. However, there is evidence that households often rely on multiple sources to meet their water needs in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This systematic review was designed to compile the literature related to the practice of multiple water source use (MWSU) for drinking water in LMICs. A total of 5,318 studies were collected, and after abstract and full-text review, 74 articles were identified for inclusion. Studies reviewed reported from 4 to 100% of the study populations practicing MWSU. Additionally, the practice of supplemental unimproved source use was reported globally, representing households with improved primary source water also accessing unimproved water sources throughout the year. These findings expose gaps in current global water monitoring efforts, revealing potential inflation of reports of ‘safe drinking water access’ and unaccounted exposure to drinking water from unimproved sources.


  • Multiple water source use has been identified in 43 countries and 4 continents, and in urban and rural areas.

  • Many households reported supplementing improved water sources with unimproved water throughout the year.

  • Current water access monitoring methods focus on a household's primary water source. Global estimates likely overestimate the proportion of the population using basic and safely managed drinking water sources.

Graphical Abstract

Graphical Abstract
Graphical Abstract
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