Background Gradient


Guatemala is a country located in the north of Central America with a population of over 16.5 million people. Its diversity of altitudes and ecosystems means that despite being relatively small, there is great climatic diversity. Guatemala can be subdivided into three main regions: the Pacific region characterized by higher rainfall and a hot climate, the central region, which thanks to its altitude is characterized by temperate climates with relative humidity and a hot and dry area in the east of the country. Therefore, despite having a relatively small territory, its diversity of reliefs and ecosystems generate certain 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 Guatemala's 2019 National Employment and Income Survey which surveyed 5,227 representative households. The survey collected some data on water in their household surveys in accordance with the WHO / UNICEF guidelines, and is the only survey in the region that collects data on potable water quailty and treatment. However, the survey does not collect data to estimate non-piped improved water sources, or differentiate between improved and unimproved latrines, making it difficult to accurately estimate SDGs 6.1 and 6.2.

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

Data sources:

Progress Towards Measuring SDG 6


Access to water and sanitation in Guatemala varies significantly between urban and rural areas, where urban households enjoy much higher access rates. Approximately 55% of Guatemalans live in rural areas making it one of the most rural countries in the region.

Inequality in Guatemala is evident when viewing the income quintiles of the country’s 2019 household survey. Each quintile represents 20% of Guatemalan households, with the 1st quintile representing the lowest per capita income, and the 5th representing the highest per capita income. Income inequality is a problem in Guatemala, as the income of the top quintile is 14 times higher than that of the bottom quintile.

Average monthly household income by quintile in local currency


Urbanization rate



Water access

Water access

A little less than half of Guatemalans live in urban areas which enjoy higher rates of access to piped water than their rural counterparts. 65% of urban Guatemalan households have piped water to the home, in comparison to only 48% of rural households, while an almost equivalent percentage or rural households (42%) obtain their water from an improved non-piped source (upper bound).

There are important socioeconomic differences in the level of access – only 29% of the poorest households have piped water to the home, in comparison to more than 85% of the top income per capita quintile. About 52% of households treat their drinking water prior to use.

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 Guatemala exposes geographic and economic inequalities. 53% of urban households have sanitation facilities that connect to a sewer system, while 8% have septic tanks. In rural areas coverage is much lower – only 34% of homes have connections to a sewer system and only 13% have septic tanks. Most of the rural population depends on improved and unimproved latrines, which can cause significant hygiene problems. 2% of rural households and about 3% of urban households do not have sanitary 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

Guatemala has three drainage basins: the Pacific Basin, Caribbean Sea Basin and Gulf of Mexico Basin. Annual water availability is 154.9 km3/year, of which 63.4 km3/year correspond to surface water bodies. The highest surface water availability is found in the Gulf of Mexico Basin (42.1%), which is composed of 10 smaller watersheds and contains the smallest population of the three basins. The Pacific basin (23.7%) has 18 smaller watersheds, the largest population and the most economic activity. The Caribbean Sea Basin, with the remaining 34.2% of the available volume of water and is composed of 10 watersheds.

Water Stress

Guatemala is classified as having a low water stress level. However, there are hydrological zones with medium and high stress. This higher water stress may be the result of the unequal availability of water resources spatially and temporally between rainy and dry periods, which on average last six months each. Water demand also varies according to population density, industrial development and irrigated agricultural production. On a macro level Guatemala has sufficient available water resources, the challenge is the management of these resources spatially and temporally.

Wastewater Treatment

Through governmental agreement 236 of 2006, the Government of Guatemala created a framework for the regulation of wastewater discharge, wastewater reuse, and sludge disposal. The agreement’s objectives are:

  • i) protecting receiving water bodies from the impacts of human activity;
  • ii) recovering receiving water bodies in the process of eutrophication; and
  • iii) promoting the development of water resources with a vision of integrated management. To date, there is no updated information on the percentage or type of treatment given to wastewater in the country. In 2010, it was estimated that only 5% of the wastewater collected in sewer systems was treated and the rest was discharged to receiving bodies without treatment.
Water and Sanitation Management

Water and Sanitation Management

Institutional Framework

The Vice-Ministry of Water is currently being created as part of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) as a result of governmental agreement 18-2021. While the functions and roles of this Vice-Ministry are being defined, there are currently sectoral roundtables for water and sanitation with 40 members, headed by the MARN and with the participation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINEX), the Ministry of Public Finance, the Planning and Programming Secretariat of the Presidency (SEGEPLAN), the Municipal Development Institute (INFOM), bilateral and multilateral agencies, among others.

Regulatory Framework

The primary regulations of the water and sanitation sector in Guatemala are found in:

  • i) Articles 127 and 128 of the Constitution of Guatemala of 1985 which establishes water as a public, inalienable and imprescriptible good;
  • ii) the Law for the Protection and Improvement of the Environment (Legislative Decree No. 68 of 1986) with guidelines on water quality;
  • iii) the Civil Code of 2010, which includes provisions related to water domain and water rights, provisions that will be in force until the Water Law of Guatemala is issued; and
  • iv) the Internal Organic Regulation of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Governmental Agreement No. 73-2021), which defines the structure and functions of the Vice-Ministry of Water.

Other related regulations are:

  • Civil Code of 1932 and 1963
  • Health Code (Decree No. 90 of 1997).
  • Municipal Code (Decree No. 12 of 2002).

Development Programs and Plans

Guatemala has plans and programs related to improving the quality of and access to drinking water and sanitation services, including: