The Dominican Republic’s strong economic development has helped improve access to water services. However, access to sanitation services is still extremely limited.
Household surveys show that access to at least improved water sources increased from 76.9% to 79.6% from 2009-2010 to 2018, countrywide , . However, marked disparities persist; in 2018 access was still 57.9% in rural zones versus 84.6% in urban zones and 31.4% of rural households had to use unimproved or surface (i.e., rivers, streams, etc.) water sources. Overall, the supply is discontinuous; urban households with access to drinking water received this service 11.6 h/day on average in 2018.
Access to improved sanitation facilities increased from 91.4% to 96.6% from 2009-2010 to 2018, countrywide , . Access in 2018 was 90.6% in rural zones, compared to 97.9% in urban zones. Some 6.1% of the rural population lacked any sanitation facility in 2018 and likely dumped their waste in rivers, channels, or practiced open defecation .
Wastewater collection is highly insufficient. Only 17.8% of the estimated 1,324,801,272 m3 of wastewater that were generated countrywide in 2019 (in the areas under INAPA’s jurisdiction), were collected by the existent sewerage systems .
Wastewater treatment is also extremely limited. Only 40.8% of the wastewater collected by sewerage systems (which accounts for only 7.3% of the total volume of wastewater generated) in 2019 was treated prior to being discharged into waterbodies . The remaining 59.2% (i.e., 139,392,252 m3) of the wastewater collected countrywide by sewerage networks was discharged untreated into the ground, waterbodies, or the sea, particularly impacting the Ozama, Haina, Yuna, and Yaque del Norte rivers.
Some 912,422 m3 of wastewater are estimated to be generated every day in the Santo Domingo Metropolitan Area (Gran Santo Domingo) — where over 30% of the country’s population resides — (as of 2021), only 26.8% (i.e.,244,547 m3/day) of which can be collected by the existent partial sewerage systems. Only 24.2% of the wastewater collected (and only 6.5% of the total volume of wastewater generated) in the city receives treatment . The remaining volume is discharged untreated into the rivers (Haina, Isabela, and Ozama) that surround the city, the aquifer, or the Caribbean Sea.
The lack of proper sanitation and sewerage collection and wastewater treatment systems is the main cause of microbiological pollution found in many of the country’s watersheds and aquifers. Pollution of these water sources limits their use for human consumption, recreation, or other uses that involve primary contact, and might compromise the wellbeing of aquatic ecosystems.
The Dominican Republic’s water supply issues are due not so much to the availability of water resources. It rather seems to have been the insufficiently planned, rapid growth of the Santo Domingo Metropolitan Area and other major urban zones, where much of the country’s population and economic activity have become concentrated, that greatly and rapidly increased the demand for water supply — and, consequently, sanitation services —far exceeding the existent infrastructure and managerial and financial capacities of the government.
With an average annual rainfall of about 1,500 mm, the total amount of renewable water potentially available every year is 25,967 Mm3 (90%/10% surface/ground water) , ; with a population of 10,535,535 people (as of 2021), this would allow some 2,465 m3 of water to be available per person per year on average, well above the water stress threshold of 1,700 m3/person/year.
This water is unevenly distributed across the country . The country’s territory has been subdivided into six major hydrographic regions: the Atlantic region comprises 6.8% of the country’s area but gets 18.7% of all the renewable surface and groundwater available countrywide; the Yaque del Norte region comprises 16.7% of the country and holds 11.9% of all the water; corresponding figures for the Yuna region are 14.8% area, 14.8% water; for the Yaque del Sur region 31.3% area, 20.8% water; for the Ozama-Nizao region 14.5% area and 18.9% water; and for the Este region 15.9% area and 15% water.
Water consumption by the various user sectors is not sufficiently measured. Countrywide total water demand was estimated to be 13,230.6 Mm3 in 2020 . Most (48.6%) of this water would be used for crop irrigation, followed by environmental flow (27.8%), livestock ranching (10.8%), human consumption (7%), industry (5.4%), and tourism (0.4%); agricultural use (crop irrigation plus livestock ranching) accounts for 82.3% of the total consumptive uses.
As the country’s population is concentrated in the Santo Domingo Metropolitan Area (in the Ozama-Nizao region) and Santiago city (in the Yaque del Norte region), 61.3% of all the water used for human consumption and 73.5% of that used for industrial uses countrywide is used up in these two regions. Per capita water availability in the Ozama-Nizao region was only 1,251 m3 per year already in 2005, indicating water stress conditions. The Yaque del Norte and Yaque del Sur regions concentrate much of the country’s agricultural activities and, thus, 82% of all the water used for irrigation countrywide is used up in these two regions.
Population and agricultural activity both heavily concentrated in some parts of the country have created a large demand for water, posing enormous pressure on their water resources. Over 93% of the entire supply of renewable surface and groundwater of the Yaque del Norte region is used every year for consumptive uses, making the region extremely vulnerable to climate variability and droughts. The still growing population of the Dominican Republic, with high and increasing urbanization, and plans to further develop its industrial and agro-industrial sectors, will put significant additional pressure on water resources. Projected population growth is expected to reduce water availability below the 1,700 m3/person/year threshold in the Yaque del Norte and Yuna regions by 2025, putting them under water stress conditions, and to only 715 m3/person/year in the Ozama-Nizao region, indicating chronic water stress conditions. Climate change is expected to reduce the availability and increase the variability of water resources, thus further straining the supply of water.
The very limited collection and treatment of wastewater are due to the highly insufficient, unequally available, and poor state of the infrastructure. Sanitation services are provided by several dedicated, not-for-profit public utilities (Corporaciones de Acueducto y Alcantarilado), with the National Institute of Potable Water and Sewerage (INAPA, for its acronym in Spanish) and the Santo Domingo Aqueduct and Sewerage Corporation (CAASD) being the largest ones. The former serves a number of urban and rural zones across the country, covering about 40% of the population, whereas CAASD serves the Santo Domingo Metropolitan Area.
The coverage of sewerage systems was only 20% in 2018, countrywide; only 5.4% in rural areas vs. 22.1% in urban zones, and has even worsened over the last decade . A total of 104 wastewater treatment plants exist countrywide, but only 51 of those were operational, 27 were out of service, and the remaining 26 were being remodelled or still under construction in 2016 .
Only about 18% of the streets of the Santo Domingo Metropolitan Area (Gran Santo Domingo) are served by sewerage networks . The rest of the population utilize septic tanks, latrines, or discharge their wastewater directly into the ground, waterbodies, or elsewhere. The installed capacity of the 15 wastewater treatment plants that serve the city is only 59,090 m3/day .
Another major issue is the lack of a comprehensive national policy, regulatory, and institutional framework specifically devoted to water management. No General Water Act that regulates the use of the country’s water resources and preserve their availability and quality is currently available. In addition, there is a multiplicity of actors, ranging from national ministries (economy and planning, health, environment, and agriculture), public utilities, citizens organizations, NGOs, and international development agencies that participate, at various levels, in water and sanitation activities, particularly in rural areas, often with no coordinating mechanism.
Key policies and governance approach
The National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INDHRI, for its acronym in Spanish) is the government agency responsible for regulating the use of the country’s surface and ground waters and for watershed management and conservation. However, the necessary policy and regulatory framework is still incipient. Two major steps taken to address this deficiency are:
(i) The 2010 National Hydrological Plan  provides a scheme for optimizing the use and management of national water resources, identifies priority actions and outlines an action plan to solve and prevent water quantity and quality issues, in order to achieve a rational and sustainable use of the country's water resources. The plan also delineates actions for the long-term development of the sector, identifies indicators and means to monitor its progress and revise its objectives if needed. An updated version of the Plan is currently being formulated and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021 .
(ii) The National Sanitation Strategy  was formulated and adopted in 2016 as a means to address the problems caused by unregulated wastewater discharges and solid waste dumping. The strategy addresses issues related to potable water, domestic and non-domestic wastewater, and rainwater drainage, as well as solid waste management issues.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The country fared rather poorly in its latest progress report on SDG indicator 6.5.1 – the degree of implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). It scored below the regional average in many of the indicators of three (enabling environment, management instruments, and financing) of the four (except for institutions and participation) dimensions of IWRM. No progress in implementation was attained from the 2017 report and the latest one in 2020 as it remained at a Medium-low level.
Efforts to fill the lack of an integrated policy and regulatory frameworks for water management have been recently made or are currently ongoing but these are still to be effectively implemented, which might be challenging. The institutions responsible for implementing and enforcing the new regulations would have to also acquire the technical and material capacities to do so. More important, the large investments necessary for improving and expanding the infrastructure for wastewater collection and treatment to meet the current and future demand might delay or hinder their implementation, given the limited resources and capacities commanded by the utilities.
Although local fees are to be paid by the users of water and sanitation services, these reduced fees do not cover the actual cost of the services and yet many users are unable to pay them. Thus, the operation, maintenance, and improvement of water and sanitation utilities relies on subsidies from, and investments made by, the national and local governments.
Initiatives and Development Plans
An updated version of the National Hydrological Plan  is currently under construction with support from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation; the plan is to be completed by the end of 2021 .
A much-needed General Water Act that comprehensively regulates the use of the country’s water resources and preserve their availability and quality to provide water security and sustain the country’s sustainable development had been in the making for over 20 years. The latest draft of the General Act was finally approved by Senate in mid-2020 and it is hoped to be soon turned into law .
Goals and Ambitions
The National Hydrological Plan  aims to have, by 2030, water available in the optimum amount and quality to meet the population’s needs in all the country’s regions; water management will contribute to the socio-economic development of all the sectors and to the conservation of the environment.
- Efforts to respond to the lack of integrated policies and regulatory frameworks for water have been recently made or are currently ongoing but these are still to be effectively implemented. This might be challenging and would likely benefit from support from the international community.
- The institutions responsible for implementing and enforcing the new regulations would have to also acquire the technical and material capacities to do so.
- Financing the large investments needed for improving and expanding the infrastructure for wastewater collection and treatment to meet the current and future demand will be challenging, given the limited resources and capacities of local governments. Increasing the fees paid by the users of water and sanitation services in small cities and rural areas might seem as a feasible avenue to improve, expand, and make water sanitation services sustainable. However, this simplistic view overlooks the heterogeneity in financial capacities and poverty levels across the various regions of the country.