The Sustainable Development Goals create ambitious targets for achieving universal access to safely managed sanitation by 2030. The core indicator for SDG 6.2 creates positive incentives for governments, and development partners to invest in the whole sanitation chain, recognising the public health benefits of managing waste beyond initial containment. However, the target and indicators also create risks. Global accountability could be undermined by the challenge of accounting for progress across different service levels below the target of safely managed. There could also be perverse incentives to upgrade existing services, in order to meet the benchmark of safely managed, at the expense of extending basic services to those currently unserved. This paper examines methodological options for calculating a ‘total service gap’, a measure that would combine data on each rung of the service ladder to quantify how far away each country is from universal safely managed services. It conducts a sensitivity analysis to assess the validity of using uniform service level weights, and finds that this approach could add value to existing metrics. Through alternative data visualisations and other devices, it is argued that the total service gap could help to address the risks surrounding global accountability and perverse incentives.
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