Frequently asked questions

If you have any questions about WaterAid and our work, this page can help you! Simply select one of the following categories and click on a question to view the answer.

Does WaterAid carry out emergency work?

WaterAid is primarily a development organisation, working with communities on long-term solutions to water and sanitation problems. However, in the places where we work, we endeavour to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies where we can make a useful contribution, especially in protecting or restoring vital water and sanitation services for poor people.

Why do you work where you do?

The countries where we work are selected based on the following criteria:

  • There is potential for WaterAid’s work to be effective and have a long-term positive impact.
  • The country lies at the lower end of the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index, or has pockets of extreme poverty, and a significant part of the population in the country lacks access to water and sanitation.
  • There is an opportunity for WaterAid’s work to compliment the work of others.
  • There is potential for us to influence other organisations to improve access to safe water and sanitation.
  • There is an opportunity for us to widen our experience and knowledge, increasing our credibility and ability to influence global change.

There are other countries which need water and sanitation too. Why doesn't WaterAid work there?

We have plans for significant further expansion over the next five years. We aim to be working in a total of 30 countries by 2015.

The global water and sanitation problem is so vast that we are unable to reach everyone who needs support. However, through our global advocacy work we aim to change policies and practices around the world that impact upon people's access to water and sanitation.

Does WaterAid work with other organisations?

We are continuously looking for ways to work in partnership with others so that our work will have as much impact as possible. We work with national and local governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), networks, research and academic institutions and community-based organisations, among others. We work with them to increase their effectiveness in service delivery and in advocacy and campaigning.

Local governments in many of the countries in which we work have been given the responsibility, but not the skills or resources, to develop water and sanitation in their regions, so we plan to work more closely with them in the coming years to develop their capacity to carry out their work effectively.

We also work with other international NGOs, research institutes and alliances on our campaigns, reports and advocacy work – both in the countries where we work and internationally.

We are a founding member of the End Water Poverty campaign, a coalition of like-minded organisations calling for water and sanitation for all.

Why don't you merge with all the other charities that work in your area?

We work specifically on improving poor people's access to water, hygiene and sanitation. However, the scale of the problem is vast and to achieve our vision of a world where everyone has access to these basic needs we are continuously seeking ways of working in partnership with others so that our work has as much impact as possible.

We are increasingly conscious of the need to consider any possible risks of duplication of effort. This is why we work with local organisations in the countries where we work, through the structure put in place by the country governments. As the responsibility for water and sanitation is more often falling to local government we are also working with them to develop their capacity to carry out their work effectively.

In many countries we are helping the local government to map the water resources that are available and see which are working. This means any future work can be planned to mend broken facilities (which is cheaper than building new ones) and reach those most in need.

We also work with other international NGOs on our campaigns, reports and advocacy work - both in the countries where we work and internationally. For example we are a founding member of the End Water Poverty campaign, a coalition of like minded organisations calling on water and sanitation for all.

Do you carry out work with governments?

We work with different levels of government in different ways. Find out more on our member country sites.

In our country programmes we often support national and local governments in their plans and efforts to deliver safe, sanitation and hygiene services to their citizens.

Why can't governments with considerable revenues from things like oil and trade afford to supply water and sanitation to their own people?

We believe that governments should fulfill their responsibilities to provide basic human rights like water and sanitation to all of their citizens. Water and sanitation are often given a lower priority by national governments and aid organisations than other development areas, such as health and education, despite overwhelming evidence of the importance of their importance in helping people overcome poverty.

We campaign with local and international partners to change governments’ policy and practice and influence the development agenda on every level. Our aim is to ensure that water, hygiene and sanitation’s vital role in reducing poverty is recognised.

In many of the countries where we work the national government has given responsibility to local governments to provide water and sanitation services. However, many are under-resourced and do not have the skills, capacity or finance to manage this work. We work in partnership with many local governments to help them gain the necessary skills and experience to carry out their work effectively.

For example in some countries we map the location of existing water and sanitation facilities to see where facilities are required so that any new work reaches the people who are most in need. We then work with local governments to build their capacity to deliver on their responsibilities to provide these essential services.

In democratic countries, why don't people demand better services from their government?

Often, poor communities are marginalised and not aware of their entitlements to basic services. We work with communities to increase their awareness of rights and facilitate dialogue with the government agencies responsible for delivering it.

As water is a human right, how does WaterAid use this to advocate for water for all?

We lobbied to establish the right to water, which was declared by the UN in 2002, and we now work to help the world's poorest people achieve that right in the following ways:

  • Helping our partner organisations to promote the right to water and lobby their governments to allocate further resources to these basic services through our Citizens' Action project.
  • Defending the right to water to governments who question whether there is sufficient mandate for water to be viewed as a right.
  • Working with other rights organisations to develop educations and understanding about the right to water.
  • Why do communities have to contribute to their projects?

    Community involvement is vital to the success of our projects. In places where wells or latrines have been built without community involvement they will often fall into disrepair as nobody maintains the services or fixes them when they break.

    Our projects rely on community ownership. In the early stages we discuss problems and solutions with communities so that they know the links between water, sanitation and hygiene. When they fully understand how poor water, sanitation and hygiene fuel diseases they will want to change their environment themselves.

    We work with partners to help communities develop the skills to set-up, operate and maintain their own water and sanitation facilities and to learn about good hygiene. In this way, communities themselves own the projects and will use them properly and maintain them long into the future.

    To ensure that projects operate effectively, community members are often asked to contribute to the scheme by making regular small payments or contributing at the start of the project. When people are unable to pay they can contribute labour or materials instead, or are subsidised by others. These contributions pay for the set up costs and maintenance of projects, and often the salaries of local staff, who keep the schemes in good working order.

    Often these contributions are significantly less than the communities were paying already for their water, particularly from expensive vendors in urban areas or for medicines for treating the sick. Communities with water and sanitation in place often report being better off. Without spending hours each day collecting water women can carry out other work and generate an income and children can go to school.

    Isn't the real problem population growth?

    The world’s population is likely to reach nine billion by 2050, and most of this growth will take place in the developing world. Every human being has a right to life and a right to development. There are enough resources in the world for everyone if they are used efficiently and shared equitably. However, uneven distribution of resources and varying rates of population growth mean that in some areas the rate at which renewable water resources are being consumed threatens to exceed the rate at which they can be recharged and reused. The central challenge therefore is not about controlling population growth, but rather promoting social, economic and technological developments necessary to ensure efficient and equitable resource use.

    High birth rates can be a symptom of a lack of women’s empowerment. This can be the case if they are not able to choose how many children they have, due, for example, to a lack of education or lack of access to contraceptives. High birth rates can also be a symptom of poverty and underdevelopment. Where child mortality is very high people tend to have more children. Poor households also tend to have more children in order help grow food and earn money for the family.

    Improving women’s rights and economic development is among the most important factors leading to a reduction in population growth. Improved access to water and sanitation has been shown to improve girls’ school attendance, helping to empower women, and to free up time for economic activities. The demographic transition model shows how falls in birth rates lagged behind falls in death rates following industrialisation in the USA, Europe and Japan. If the same proves true for developing countries, we can expect a delay of several years before the impact of economic development is seen in terms of reduced population growth.

    We believe that in the context of the sharing of water resources, everyone has a right of access to safe and affordable drinking water and basic sanitation. All countries must have a national water resource management plan to enable appropriate allocation of water resources, manage competing claims and ensure that everyone has their basic entitlement to drinking water secured.

    Does WaterAid have an environment policy?

    The climate is a fundamental driver of the water cycle and as such any climate change will not only determine how much, or indeed how little, water is available globally but will also impact the quality of this water. Climate change can also seriously affect the sustainability of sanitation facilities due to flooding, cyclones and other extreme weather systems.

    To support our global vision we seek to minimise the environmental impact of all our activities and are committed to working on the following key ethical, environmental and sustainable principles:

    • To be compliant with all environmental legislation
    • To continuously review, improve and challenge our wider environmental performance
    • To effectively manage our use of natural resources
    • To effectively manage all waste
    • To actively promote a wider understanding of environmental issues throughout all areas of the organisation including our staff, volunteers, supporters and suppliers
    • In particular we will aim to:
      • Reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact in terms of our UK and International travel policies
      • Reduce our environmental impact when producing and distributing all corporate literature and publications by using sustainable practices, products, materials and energy wherever possible.
      • Reduce and control our waste on the principle of ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Energy’, using energy supplies from renewable sources and energy-efficient technologies and equipment where possible.
      • Work with suppliers, contractors and partners who comply with our commitment to improve our environmental performance.
      • Ensure that all our employees and those who work on our behalf understand our commitment to environmental issues and are familiar with our policies.

      We are committed to implementing an ongoing system of environmental management, sustainability and improvements, which will enable us to set realistic targets that we can measure and monitor within agreed timeframes and publish our success annually.

    Why did you stop working in Angola?

    WaterAid is committed to creating solutions that are long lasting. As such, it is vital that they are cost-effective.

    In Angola, we attempted to create a stable programme, and in our time there managed to reach 18,000 people with safe water and 1,000 with sanitation. However, operational costs were deemed too high for any future work to be genuinely cost-effective or sustainable. We therefore ended our field activities.

    As part of our Everyone, everywhere 2030 advocacy campaign, WaterAid continues to work throughout Southern Africa towards universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. We are also researching other countries in the region where your donations can be invested in cost-effective and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.


    Can I visit your projects overseas?

    We greatly appreciate the support we receive from many thousands of individuals, groups and companies. However, because so many people help fund our work we don't encourage supporters to visit our projects overseas. Most of our projects are in remote areas, so visiting requires help from the WaterAid country office and from our local partners who help manage the project. In many areas communications networks are very limited and coordinating visits takes a great deal of time. This takes up valuable time and resources which could be uses to help more people gain access to safe water and sanitation.

    Can I volunteer to help with projects overseas?

    We generally don't send volunteers overseas. Day to day project work is carried out by organisations based in the countries where we work. These organisations mostly employ local members of staff, who work very closely with communities to ensure that they are actively involved in the planning, building and maintenance of our projects. Local participation is vital to ensure the sustainability of water and sanitation projects, and also helps the future development of a country.

    We also work locally and internationally to change policy and practice and ensure water, hygiene and sanitation’s vital role in reducing poverty is recognised.

    Can I give you tools to help in the construction of projects?

    The expense and administration involved in shipping materials to developing countries means than in most cases it is not cost effective for us to receive gifts in kind for use in our country programmes. We also believe in sourcing as much hardware as possible from local areas, which gives local economies a much needed boost, saves on unnecessary air miles, helps develop the sense of local ownership of projects, means there is more likely to be local expertise in repairing those items and makes spare parts easier to source.

    However, other gifts in kind such as old mobile phones, certain computer equipment and some vehicles can be a valuable gift.

    Other gifts in kind we would welcome include venues for events, meeting room spaces, and gifts that we may be able to use as auction items.


    Can you put a plaque on a well in recognition of our support?

    As a rule, we do not allow signs from our supporters at our project sites. WaterAid involves the community at all stages of the project to help ensure the community feels ownership of the project and assumes the responsibility for actively maintaining the facilities long after WaterAid and our project partners have left the area. We feel this sense of community ownership would be undermined by displaying supporters' names on the wells or other items of hardware.

    Who can I contact with any other queries about donating to WaterAid?

    Please call our Supporter Services team in the UK on (+44) (0)20 7793 4594 with any questions or queries. Lines are open 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Fridays. Or email us at supportercare@wateraid.org.

    Why do you prefer people to make regular gifts?

    We ask people to make regular gifts to WaterAid so that we have a steady and predictable income. Giving regularly by bank transfer is the most cost effective way to make a donation as it saves money on administration – meaning more can go to our water and sanitation work.

    Regular gifts give long-term security and enable us to plan sustainable projects. In each country where we work the need is great and we have ambitious plans in place to help more people gain access to water and sanitation. Regular gifts give us the security and confidence to plan and carry on with our work.

    Many people also find that they prefer to spread the cost of giving over small, regular instalments. This way they are able to give more over time and we can therefore help more people in the world to access to clean safe water and sanitation.

    Why do you ask for specific amounts of money in your appeals?

    We have found that supporters like to know what their money can achieve and so we give examples on our appeals of what impact certain amounts can have, but the choice of what you give is entirely yours.

    In the countries where we work a small amount of money can often go a long way, so even a small gift can make a big difference to people in the world's poorest countries.

    Many supporters also prefer to be given guidance as to the level of their donation and find it actually makes their decision easier.


    Why do you spend money on raising funds?

    In order to secure income to achieve our work it is necessary to spend money on communicating our need for funds. These fundraising costs vary depending on who the organisation is asking (government, private individuals, companies or foundations). We seek to raise funds from a variety of sources in order to maximise the amounts of money raised and reduce reliance on a small number of funders. To see the full details about how WaterAid raises its funds please see the member country sites for their annual reports.

    How do you ensure my money is spent properly overseas?

    We have a rigorous system of monitoring to support our country offices and partners implementing our project work. Financial reports are sent to the managing member country on a monthly basis. We also have dedicated Partner Monitoring Finance Officers in most countries who check the finances of the partner organisations, and all our offices have well qualified and trained finance staff.

    In addition to this we have an internal audit function which carries out comprehensive audits for the country programmes and reports their findings to the Audit Committee. Each country programme also has an annual external audit by an independent firm of accountants. For member countries’ audit arrangement please see their sites.