Ambition, competition and mobile apps drive progress on sanitation, WaterAid research finds

20 Feb 2017

Informal messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, competition between cities, and approaches that tap into bureaucrats’ own aspirations and values are key to accelerating progress on the global sanitation crisis, a new WaterAid report has found. 

WaterAid’s Making Sanitation Happen: Turning Political Will into Action,’ based on research commissioned from the Overseas Development Institute, examines progress in rural India, rural Ethiopia and urban Indonesia for lessons on how to transform political commitments to sanitation into results on the ground.

In the three countries, lower levels of government and relevant ministries have been encouraged to make sanitation a political priority. Informal sharing and reporting of results has encouraged learning and adaptation, to ensure problems are addressed and blockages removed.

Among the findings:

  • Digital communications platforms like WhatsApp are giving junior bureaucrats in India and Indonesia the ability to skip over hierarchy and ‘chat’ regularly  with political superiors, meaning information is shared faster and more accurately, and there’s more motivation to produce results.
  • In Indonesia and India, award competitions and public functions have helped encourage progress, by recognising municipal leaders who have increased budget allocations or used innovations in service delivery, giving them prestige among their peers.
  • In Ethiopia, biannual government reviews of progress in water and sanitation include a forum for a wide range of stakeholders, designed to review and improve sanitation efforts.

In all cases, innovations that bridge ministries, departments and hierarchies proved key to success.

Andrés Hueso, WaterAid senior policy analyst on sanitation and research co-author, said:

“The number of people around the world who live without access to decent sanitation remains at just under 2.4 billion – a number which hasn’t changed significantly for more than a decade. If we are to reach everyone, everywhere with sanitation by 2030 as promised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a step-change in progress is crucial.

“While there is no one size fits all for delivering sanitation and each country has to find its own path, our research highlights some ideas that can help. First, sanitation must be a priority at all levels and within all relevant departments. Then they need to be able to learn and adapt as they go.

“Ethiopia, India and Indonesia have used innovative ways to achieve theis: whether it’s ensuring professional and personal recognition to those that champion the cause, or creating cross-sector forums that bring everyone together to talk about what’s working, or using mobile messaging apps to bring junior and senior bureaucrats together. Their experiences can inspire other countries and help unlock success.”

To read the full report, please see:


For further information or to arrange an interview please contact news manager Carolynne Wheeler on [email protected] or +44 (0) 207 793 4485, or global head of media Fiona Callister on [email protected] or +44 (0)207 793 5022.  Or contact the WaterAid press office on +44 (0)207 793 4537, or after hours on 07887 521 552 or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors:


WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.  The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities.  Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 24 million people with sanitation.  For more information, visit, follow @wateraid on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s almost 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.
  • An estimated 663 million people (around one in ten) are without safe water
  • Nearly 2.4 billion people (around one in three) live without improved sanitation
  • For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.
  • For details on how individual countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, please see our online database,