Background Gradient


Jamaica is an island nation in the Caribbean of approximately 11,000 square kilometers, with a population of approximately 2.7 million . Despite having high annual rainfall rates of approximately 2,100 mm/year, accelerated urbanization, environmental degradation, and aging water infrastructure pose challenges for water access and sanitation in Jamaica. The Island’s vulnerability to hurricanes and associated flooding increasingly threatens Jamaica's already aging water infrastructure.

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

This page relies heavily on Jamaica’s 2018 Survey of Living Conditions, which is run by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) with the objective of collecting data on living conditions and access to services throughout Jamaica on an annual basis, including water and sanitation access. The 2018 survey collected data from 4,547 representative households from both rural and urban communities, and the Kingston metropolitan area.

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

Data sources:

Progress Towards Measuring SDG 6


Inequality in Jamaica is lower than in many countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) but poverty is a major problem throughout the island country. The Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions does not collect income information, so the OLAS dataset does not have income quintile information or water and sanitation access information broken down by socioeconomic level or income quintile for Jamaica.

Average monthly household income by quintile in local currency


Urbanization rate



Water access

Water access

Water access in Jamaica varies significantly between urban and rural areas, with urban households – about 52% of the Jamaican population – enjoying higher rates of access. This is especially true when looking at metrics such as the proportion of households with piped water to house or plot: approximately 82% of Jamaicans living in urban settings have access to piped water, either within their home or on their plot, while the corresponding number for rural communities is 44.5%. A large percent of rural households get their water from other water sources, primarily wells, but the household survey does not contain sufficient detail to determine definitively if those sources can be considered improved. The high dependence on groundwater extraction for meeting water demand raised concerns about over-pumping and resulted in saltwater intrusion in some areas of the country. These issues combined with old infrastructure and financial constraints are the most pressing challenges facing water access in Jamaica.

Sanitation Access

Sanitation Access

Jamaica faces a number of challenges when it comes to sanitation access. 88% of households reported having a sanitation facility that was exclusive (unshared) to the household. 21% of households classify their primary sanitation facility as a latrine, while 1.2% of the population reported no access to sanitation facilities at all. Large numbers of urban and peri-urban informal settlements add to this challenge.

Water Resources

Water Resources

Water Availability

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean of approximately 11,000 square kilometers. 84% of its water resources come from groundwater captured in aquifers and the remaining 16% from surface water from rivers and streams. Although water demand is greatest in the basins on the south coast of the island (irrigation areas, urban centers and major industries), most of the available water resources are found in the basins on the north side of the island1.

According to the Water Resources Authority (WRA), the average annual rainfall is 21,5 km3/year. Of this amount, 50% (10,7 km3/year) is lost through evapotranspiration and the rest is distributed as surface water (5,3 km3/year) and groundwater (5,4 km3/year). However, Jamaica faces a number of challenges due to unequal distribution of rainfall, both geographically and temporally. Mountain ranges divide the island from east to west, resulting in higher rainfall in the north compared with the south due to rainshadow.

This variance in rainwater availability throughout the country has led to a dependence in some areas on groundwater extraction for meeting water demand. Over-pumping and saltwater intrusion is an area of concern.

Water Stress

Jamaica is categorized as a country with low water stress at the national level but the geographic and temporal distribution of national water resources can cause water stress in certain areas. Due to a lack of water storage infrastructure, Jamaica is highly dependent on rainwater and consistent seasonal rainfall. This, added to the fact that weather catastrophes over the past two decades, including droughts, floods, tropical storms and hurricanes, have severely affected the economic growth of the country. Rising temperatures, increased evaporation and decreased precipitation are reducing the recharge of groundwater and surface water sources. In coastal areas, rising sea levels generate seawater intrusion into aquifers, reducing freshwater supply for consumption and irrigation.

Wastewater Treatment

According to WRI Aqueduct, Jamaica has a high water risk score for physical water quality due to untreated connected wastewater. 75% of sewage waste disposal systems are infiltration systems, which have the potential to contaminate groundwater sources, especially in densely populated areas. Additionally, only 52% of municipal wastewater treatment plants nationwide meet fecal coliform standards.

Discharge of untreated or improperly treated effluent is a major contributor to coastal zone degradation in the country. Recent efforts have improved the situation in the Kingston area, but proper wastewater treatment still poses a challenge throughout the country.

Water and Sanitation Management

Water and Sanitation Management

Institutional Framework

In Jamaica, the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation is responsible for overseeing and evaluating the implementation and enforcement of the National Water Commission (NWC) Act. There are other government entities and private sector entities with roles that include service provision, policy development and service regulation. Households and communities also have an important role in water supply and sanitation for their own use.

The NWC is the primary supplier of potable water and sewerage services throughout the island, while most rural areas are served through the Municipal Corporations. Private water providers, account for only a small portion of the potable water produced.The Water Resources Authority (WRA) is charged with issuing water extraction licenses, maintaining data on water abstraction, water use efficiency, and stress, and monitoring compliance. The NWC submits data on water quality to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health promotes proper sanitation practices and establishes water quality standards.The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) maintains water-related data, which it receives from the above institutions.

Regulatory Framework

The Water Resources Act 1995 of Jamaica created a unified legislative framework for the administration and development of Jamaica’s water resources. It supports water resources planning and emphasizes their equitable allocation. It also established the Water Resources Authority (WRA). Other water related acts include the Parishes Water Supply Act, which defines the role of Parish Councils in water production and water rates, and the Public Health Act which ensures the quality of drinking water, and the National Water Commission Act establishes the framework for water supply services in terms of rates, reliability and quality.

The main regulations of the sector are as follows:

  • The Water Resources Act (1995)
  • The Public Health Act
  • The National Water Commission Act
  • The National Drinking Water Regulations
  • The Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act

Development Programs and Plans

The main programs and policies for the water and sanitation sector in Jamaica are covered in: (i) the Jamaica National Long Term Development Plan (2009-2030) Vision 2030) includes a water sector plan and creates an integrated plan for managing water resources and supply, improving water quality, potable water access and wastewater treatment capacity throughout the country; and (ii) the National Water Sector Policy and its Implementation Plan 2019, which set out methods to conserve the environment and its water resources, due to inadequate storage and infrastructure and high levels of non-revenue water.