Background Gradient


Uruguay is a country in the Southern Cone located on the Atlantic coast of South America. It has a population of about 3.5 million. Being a relatively small country with a uniform altitude, it does not have great geographical climatic differences. However, the northwest of Uruguay, which is further from the ocean, has hotter summers and is generally drier than the rest of the country. Uruguay faces some challenges regarding water and sanitation management due to disparities between rural and urban areas with respect to access to services, investment, and 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 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 Uruguay's 2018 Continuous Household Survey (ENH) which surveyed 42,282 representative households. The survey collects some data on water and sanitation access according to the WHO / UNICEF guidelines. However, it does not allow for correct differentiation between the categories of improved or unimproved latrines.

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

Data sources:

Progress Towards Measuring SDG 6


Access to water and sanitation in Uruguay varies significantly between urban and rural areas, where urban households enjoy much higher access rates. Approximately 17% of Uruguayans live in rural areas making it one of the most urbanized countries in the region.

Inequality in Uruguay is evident when viewing the income quintiles from the 2018 country’s household survey. Each quintile represents 20% of Uruguayan households, with the 1st quintile representing the lowest per capita income, and the 5th representing the highest income in the country. The average income per capita of households in the top quintile is 9.6 times higher than that of the bottom quintile, making it the least unequal country in the region by this metric.

Average monthly household income by quintile in local currency


Urbanization rate



Water access

Water access

Most Uruguayans live in urban areas that enjoy higher rates of access to piped water sources, while Uruguayans living in rural communities face more difficulties. For example, 99% of urban Uruguayan households have piped water in their homes, in comparison with 70% of rural households. Income inequality is not widely reflected in water and sanitation coverage – while the highest quintile has 98% piped water coverage to the home or land, the lowest quintile has 94%, which is still quite high.

Split data by:

Water Access Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows water access data disaggregated by community (rural/urban), income quintile, and location of water access (piped in-home, to plot, or other). 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

Households in Uruguay enjoy high levels of access to improved sanitation facilities. Types of drainage in Uruguay varies considerably between urban and rural areas. As such, while 70% of urban areas have sanitary sewers, only 19% of rural areas have this service. However, if we consider the use of septic tanks we see that 80% of rural households and just under 30% of urban households have septic tanks making improved sanitation coverage very high.

Split data by:

Sanitation Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows sanitation access data broken down by community (rural/urban), income quintile, and type of facility. 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

The Uruguayan surface water resources are grouped in a hydrographic network distributed in three transboundary macro-basins: Uruguay River, Laguna Merín, and Río de la Plata. Most of the national territory is part of the La Plata Basin (84%), shared with part of Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia and all of Paraguay. Large rivers such as the Paraná, Uruguay and Paraguay converge in the Río de la Plata. The average annual runoff resulting from the water balance model for the entire country is 77.4 km3 and per capita water availability is 50,107 m3/person/year.

Water Stress

Uruguay is classified as a country with low water stress. However, the country is sensitive to extreme events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves, strong winds, tornadoes, hailstorms, frost, and severe storms, all of which have increased in intensity and frequency. In addition, there has been an increase in average precipitation during the warm season, with interannual variability and an increase in minimum and average temperatures.

Wastewater Treatment

The domestic wastewater treatment capacity in Uruguay is limited, reaching 59% of the wastewater generated in the country. There is a lack of Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) in the country. This affects two thirds of the country’s localities and the great majority of communities with populations of less than 40,000 inhabitants. The National Sanitation Plan proposes the construction of 17 WWTPs and retrofitting 14 existing ones.

Water and Sanitation Management

Water and Sanitation Management

Institutional Framework

The sectoral actors related to water and sanitation in Uruguay are composed of:

  • the National Water Directorate (DINAGUA), an entity in charge of formulating policies on drinking water, sanitation and water resources;
  • the National Environment Directorate (DINAMA), an entity in charge of formulating environmental policies;
  • the Regulatory Unit for Energy and Water Services 68 (URSEA) an entity in charge of regulation; and
  • two main service providers, OSE and the Sanitation Division of the Municipality of Montevideo, among other entities.