Background Gradient

El Salvador

El Salvador is a country located in Central America with a population of almost 7 million. Despite being a relatively small country, El Salvador's topographic variation endows it with 3 distinct of climatic zones: the Pacific region, the Central region, and the Mountainous region. These zones vary in temperature corresponding with their altitude – the Pacific region is the hottest due to its low elevation, the Central region is located on a temperate plateau, and the mountains have generally low temperatures. This topographic and ecological diversity generate important challenges in water management.

A rich source of information for measuring the current state of access to water and sanitation are household surveys. Throughout Latin America and the Carribean, household surveys provide us with representative data of the countries' population, validated by statistical institutes, which allow cross-checking with other social statistics such as area, income, and gender breakdowns.

This page relies heavily on El Salvador's 2020 Multipurpose Household Survey which surveyed 10,900 representative households. It collected data on water and sanitation in accordance with the WHO / UNICEF guidelines. This survey is one of the few in the region that makes it possible to correctly estimate most of the SDG 6.1 and 6.2 indicators.

For more information on why OLAS uses household surveys, click here.

Data sources:

Progress Towards Measuring SDG 6


Access to water and sanitation in El Salvador varies significantly between urban and rural areas, with urban households enjoying much higher access rates. Approximately 39% of Salvadorans live in rural areas.

Inequality in El Salvador is evident when viewing the income quintiles from the 2020 household survey. Each quintile represents 20% of Salvadoran households, with the 1st quintile representing the lowest per capita income, and the 5th representing the highest income in the country. The income per capita of households in the upper income quintile is 16 times higher than that of the lower quintile.

Average monthly household income by quintile in local currency


Urbanization rate



Water access

Water access

Salvadorans living in urban areas enjoy greater access to piped water sources at home, while Salvadorans living in rural communities face more difficulties. For example, 55% of urban Salvadoran households have piped water to the home, in comparison to only 6% of rural households. At the same time, there are important socioeconomic differences in the level of access – only 69% of the poorest households have piped water to the home or plot, compared with more than 91% of households in the top income per capita quintile.

Split data by:

Water Access Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows water access data broken down by community, income quintile, location of water access, and continuity of water access. When hovering over the diagram, the number displayed shows the ratio of respondents that fit into the category on the right that come from the category on the left.

Sanitation Access

Sanitation Access

Access to sanitation in El Salvador shows several inequalities of access. El Salvador has limited sewer coverage with only 38% of households beinge connected to a sewer network. Most of this corresponds to urban households where 61% have a sewer connection. Only 1% of rural households are connected to a sewer system, one of the lowest proportions in the region. On the other hand, connection to septic tanks is higher in rural areas, with 20% of urban households having a septic tank in comparison with 26% of rural households. 4% of households overall and 8% of rural households do not have any sanitation facilities.

Split data by:

Sanitation Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows sanitation access data broken down by community, income quintile, type of facility, and whether that facility is exclusive to the household. When hovering over the diagram, the number displayed shows the ratio of respondents that fit into the category on the right that come from the category on the left.

Water Resources

Water Resources

Water Availability

El Salvador is the most populated country with the lowest water availability in Central America. It has 590 rivers and streams along 58 watersheds that flow into the Pacific Ocean. The per capita availability of 1,752 m³/person/year, approaching the limit of water stress in Central America, which is estimated at 1,700 m3/inhab/year. This places it among the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the lowest availability of water per capita. The country’s hydrological basins drain 56,052 km3/year, of which 59% evaporates and 41% flows or accumulates in the large surface water bodies.

Water Stress

El Salvador is a country classified as having a low water stress level. Despite this, there are challenges related to the depletion of aquifer recharge zones, deforestation, contamination of surface and groundwater, loss of water regulation and infiltration capacity, climate variability, and excessive use of natural resources. This, together with the constant increase in water demand due to the country’s social and economic growth creates significant challenges in management to avoid water stress.

Wastewater Treatment

As of 2015, wastewater was treated for only 18.3 percent of the urban population before being discharged into water bodies. At the national level, the country has 197 wastewater systems, of which 61 have treatment prior to discharge, with the remaining majority discharging directly into rivers or streams.

Water and Sanitation Management

Water and Sanitation Management

Institutional Framework

In El Salvador, different government institutions are charged with different aspects of water management related to the water use for human consumption and sanitation. Such competencies are related to:

  • i) the protection of water resources;
  • ii) the authorization of service tariffs;
  • iii) the control of water quality; and
  • iv) maintaining the conditions of availability of surface and subway water resources in quantity and quality.

Regulatory Framework

El Salvador has a wide range of regulations in the potable water and sanitation sector, the most important being:

Development Programs and Plans

El Salvador has two main plans aimed at guaranteeing access to drinking water and sanitation in the country:

  • i) the National Drinking Water and Sanitation Plan of El Salvador, Plan Nacional de Agua Potable y Saneamiento de El Salvador [(PLANAPS)]( pdf), which has as its strategic guidelines the supply of drinking water and sanitation in urban and rural areas, and
  • ii) the National Plan for Integrated Water Resource Management of El Salvador Plan Nacional de Gestión Integrada del Recurso Hídrico de El Salvador (PNGIRH), which as a management instrument, proposes technical measures for each hydrographic region of the country.