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.

Can’t people just dig their own wells? Or dig a hole for a toilet?

Many people already do. Hand dug wells, for instance, are the most common way people in developing countries access water. Going to the toilet in the open in this way is also extremely common.

However, both of these solutions are unsafe, directly leading to the spread of deadly diseases. Wells need to be constructed in ways that ensure the water is safe to drink, and toilets need to effectively contain and dispose of human waste without threatening people’s health. These techniques require more specialist knowledge than a community is likely to have.

WaterAid’s local partners therefore work with communities to build simple, effective long-term solutions, like safely lined and capped wells and ventilated pit latrines. These are far safer and help protect people’s health – allowing them to break out of the cycle of poverty.

You can read more about our technologies on our technologies page >

Why don’t people move nearer to their water source?

Natural sources of water are rarely safe. When open to nature they can be contaminated with household and industrial waste, animal faeces, parasites and waterborne diseases like cholera.

They are also unreliable, drying up or running out. This means finding a new source that could be many miles away. A community cannot move every time this happens.

Land ownership is also an issue for most people; poor communities lack the money to simply move to new locations, let alone find new work, or land to farm.

It is therefore much better and safer to create a water facility that is local, using water that needs only minimal filtering – like groundwater, rainwater, or similar – and being owned collectively by a community.

Find out more on our technologies page >

Why don't people boil the water they collect

There are some significant problems with this as a long-term solution. For instance, sourcing a constant supply of fuel to boil water can be very difficult or expensive. Also, this extra need to constantly burn fossil fuels often leads to higher rates of respiratory conditions.

Boiling the water also does nothing to stop millions of women and children having to walk miles for their water every day, leaving no time for other work, education or play. Instead, it adds to this time significantly and creates more issues.

Nobody should be forced to live this way. As a long term solution, it is fairer, cheaper and more sustainable in every way to create a water supply that is close by and safe at its source.

Why do women and children have to collect water – why aren't men helping?

In many of the countries where we work, families split the duties necessary to survive. Traditionally, men will try to earn income or build a livelihood through agricultural or manual work; women will collect water, cook and look after children.

Providing a local source of safe water can drastically reduce the amount of time women need to spend collecting water, and vastly improve their health and that of their families. It can also open up opportunities to earn an income themselves.

Commonly, WaterAid trains women in communities how to maintain and repair their water and sanitation technologies, and how to create a management board for them. Providing women with applicable skills and responsibilities can help towards gender equality and the realisation of their rights.

Water is heavy – why do your photos show people carrying it on their heads? Surely that’s dangerous?

WaterAid’s partners can often provide a waterpoint within a community, but sometimes it can be up to a few hundred metres away for some households.

In some places where WaterAid works, balancing heavy loads on the head is a cultural tradition practised for generations. However, the need to do this is greatly reduced by bringing a reliable source of safe water as close to a community as possible.

I’ve seen a good clean water invention – are you sending them to your projects?

While technology plays a vital role in getting clean water and sanitation to people, the crisis is not a problem that can be fixed with a ‘silver bullet’ technology.

Charitable distribution of inventions – such as filters, pumps, purifiers, water condensation units, rolling water butts or similar – has been tried many times in the past, but only achieves limited short term impact.

Instead, the water and sanitation crisis is largely a management problem – one where government and the local private sector are desperately lacking finances, skills, coordination and dedicated institutions to provide water and sanitation services to citizens.

WaterAid wants to see the eventual establishment of permanent services like these through government and service providers. It is here that real innovation in approaches needs to occur.

In our community work, we use reliable, simple technologies that are sourced locally, so that communities and local authorities are better able to maintain them sustainably in the future.

To find out more about the kinds of technologies we use in our work, please take a look at our technologies page.

How are you going to achieve your 2030 target?

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone everywhere has safe water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. However, we simply cannot do this alone.

Achieving this goal is as much a political challenge as a technical or financial one. Governments have to build strong systems so that all the agencies involved – from ministries down to local government – are working together to ensure people have services that are appropriate, accessible and sustainable.

WaterAid’s approach is to combine practical work with policy work to make lasting change happen. In our projects, communities are involved from day one, working with our local partners to design and build the most suitable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for them. We then work with governments to roll out successful approaches and keep facilities going through strong systems.

With the adoption of the Global Goals at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, world leaders have also committed to providing water, sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030. We are therefore in the best position we have ever been to make this vision a reality.

Why is there still a need after all these years of aid?

Aid has helped a huge number of people receive water to date, but we are dealing with a truly vast crisis – with 663 million people still lacking access to safe water and a staggering 2.4 billion without a toilet.

It is therefore vital that aid continues to be invested in water and sanitation, and in the most efficient, sustainable ways possible.

For instance, one reason there is still a need is because water and sanitation provision is often underfunded in developing countries. WaterAid therefore campaigns around the world to ensure governments are fulfilling their responsibilities, investing in water and sanitation systems that can be sustained after aid stops.

If a collective effort is made, we believe everyone everywhere can have access to clean water and toilets within a generation – and in 2015, the United Nations agreed, making universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene part of its Global Goals for 2030. A worldwide effort like this will be necessary to achieve a solution.

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.

Do you fund governments?

No. However, we do work with governments to change policy and practice to improve poor people’s access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. We do this through policy, advocacy, campaigning and dialogue with key decision makers. We want to see all governments build strong water and sanitation sectors with robust systems that deliver services and keep them running. We want to see increased funding for water and sanitation and for governments to direct it at people who need it most.

Isn’t all the aid being lost to corruption? How can I be sure my donation is going to the right place?

WaterAid is of course aware of the potential for aid money to be lost to fraud and corruption, and for this reason has a rigorous financial system in place to protect ourselves from this.

WaterAid’s internal audit team track all of our expenditure, and that of the partners who help us implement our work. We are also independently audited each year by PwC.

Why do you work in India?

With a population of more than 1.3 billion people spread across 1.3 million square miles, India is a vast country with many unique challenges to development. Around 78 million people have no access to safe water, and over 770 million have nowhere to go to the toilet.

We work with the Indian Government at national, state and local levels, towards our aim of reaching everyone everywhere with safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Over the last 20 years, the Indian government has proven its commitment to water and sanitation, reaching 500 million people with safe water and pledging to ensure that everyone has basic sanitation by 2023.

India occasionally comes under criticism for its space programme, which was founded in 1969. The India Government invests just 0.08% of its GDP on the programme – less than one tenth of one percent.

We estimate that in 2016, our WaterAid India country programme will have completed the necessary legal procedures to be able to raise funds from the Indian public. This will be a unique arrangement among WaterAid's country programmes, and reflects the opportunities that exist in India.

Why can’t the countries you work in help themselves?

The countries WaterAid works in are among the poorest in the world, with limited national budgets. Building robust water and sanitation sectors and infrastructure takes a lot of dedicated, strategic investment.

Local governments are often made responsible for water and sanitation services, but lack the appropriate funding and specialist help to make progress. Support from a specialist group like WaterAid can change this, and allow local governments to hold national government to account over their responsibilities.

Isn’t population growth the problem?

No. In underdeveloped regions, high birth rates among extremely poor people are partly a response to high child mortality – when a child is less likely to survive, parents are likely to have more children.

However, investing in water and sanitation services helps address this by improving health and reducing child deaths. A reduction in child mortality leads to a reduction in the need for families to have more children.

High birth rates can also be a symptom of a lack of women’s empowerment. Access to water and sanitation, and the time-savings and health benefits it brings, have been shown to increase girls’ school attendance and women’s opportunities. Improving girls’ education and women’s social status are important factors in producing smaller, healthier families.

Are you a religious organisation?

No. We do, however, gratefully accept support from religious community groups and partner with religious organisations in country programmes.

Why do the communities need to pay for the services themselves?

For any service to be sustainable it requires investments from users to cover costs of parts, repairs and salaries for community members who are elected to manage it. Paying for services also helps create responsibility and ownership of them within a community – vital to the success of a long-term solution.

All WaterAid projects are equitable and inclusive. This ensures that tariffs are graded so that everyone can afford to pay them and use the facilities, regardless of gender, caste, disability or any other factor. Those who are unable to afford any grade of tariff usually agree upon other ways to contribute.

You can learn more about equity and inclusion in our Equity and inclusion framework (PDF)

How do you ensure your projects are sustainable for the long term? Are they?

Every community has different needs and face individual challenges depending on location. All WaterAid projects are therefore designed in collaboration with communities to develop solutions most likely to succeed in the long term.

Spare parts must be locally available, and the community are trained in maintaining and managing the chosen solution.

We also conduct post-implementation studies that monitor functionality and the use of facilities, and gain insight from these. See our annual report page for results.

Through the insights such studies provide us, we continually work to improve the sustainability of the services our partners deliver.

Read more about our service delivery work.

Why do you work in the countries you do, and not in others where there is need?

With 663 million people worldwide still lacking access to safe water, and 2.4 billion people with no place to go to the toilet, the global water and sanitation crisis is too vast for WaterAid to solve alone.

Should WaterAid have the opportunity to extend our work into new areas, the following criteria are considered:

  • 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 complement 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.

Through our global advocacy work we aim to change international water and sanitation policies so that everyone everywhere accesses clean water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.

I’m in contact with a community in the developing world who are in desperate need – can you help?

Due to the scale of the water and sanitation crisis, WaterAid cannot reach everyone on our own. To be as effective as possible, we work to a Global Strategy, which is based on detailed research and planned many years in advance. Because of this, we cannot offer assistance that is not included in our long-term plans.

There are many other agencies that might be able to help, however. We recommend visiting, or other similar NGO directory sites to research other groups who may be able to help. In order to share our skills and expertise, we have published extensive notes on the technologies used in our projects.

Does WaterAid work in emergencies?

As WaterAid is a development organisation, specialising in long-term solutions, we are not set up to respond to emergency situations. However, if an emergency occurs in a region where we are already working, we will assist relief efforts in whatever way we can.

How much of your expenditure goes to those who need it, and how much goes on fundraising?

We are always keen to be as cost effective as possible, investing in both our current programmes and our ability to raise funds for future work. Last year we spent 76p in every pound on delivering services to those in need and 24p was invested in fundraising.

For each pound invested in fundraising, £4.30 was raised in donations. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters our overall income increased to £85.5m in 2015/16, helping us reach even more communities in desperate need.

A full breakdown of our income and expenditure can be found in our Annual Report.

What is your Chief Executive’s salary and do you have a salary policy?

We are keen to be open and transparent about how we use our funds, and share our salary costs in our Annual Report. For 2015/16 our Chief Executive’s salary including taxable benefits was £132,080.

WaterAid is a global organisation and the quality of our staff is crucial to the effective and efficient running of our operations. Our salary policy is to recruit highly skilled, experienced staff who can help us bring lasting change to these vulnerable communities. Salaries are regularly benchmarked against other charitable organisations, and our salary policy is agreed by our Board of Trustees.

Are you a registered charity?

Yes, we are registered with the Charity Commission. Our registration numbers are 288701 (England and Wales) and SC039479 (Scotland).

Why are you based in London?

WaterAid is based in Vauxhall, one of the commercially cheaper areas of South East London. Being in London gives us access to many of the key decision makers in international development, helping us drive change and address the global water and sanitation crisis.

Our location also gives us access to a large, skilled workforce.

Wherever possible we outsource some of our administrative functions, such as donation processing, outside London to help reduce our costs.

Why don’t charities doing the same work merge together?

The huge scale of the global water and sanitation crisis means that inevitably there are many charities across the world trying to tackle it. However, attempting to merge these thousands of groups and work as one organisation would pose many challenges in logistics and practices, risking inefficiency.

There are already coalitions and networks that oversee the work of many of these charities. These help to eliminate overlap and duplication of effort in areas where more than one charity may be working, and create opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge and ideas.

As a leader in the sector, WaterAid’s successful working practices are often cited by other organisations in their own work. For this reason, we readily share information through such resources as our technologies page

How much does a well cost?

It is very hard to give the general cost of a well, as the cost of specific items varies from country to country. Each community project also has its own associated costs of technical requirements and training for the community to manage and maintain their systems in the future.

We prefer not to direct donations to specific items or projects. The administration costs would be too high, so we designate donations as ‘unrestricted’ general funds instead, to be used wherever the need is greatest. This helps give us flexibility in how we work too.

I’d like to make a donation as a gift for someone.

Please visit Shop for Life – our online gift donation service.

Can I visit or volunteer to work on one of your overseas projects?

WaterAid does not send volunteers to projects. We believe it is vital that each community take responsibility for constructing, maintaining and managing their project themselves - receiving specialist support and training from our local partner agencies in the region.

As the communities we work with are often in very remote areas, any visit would also require detailed planning and use up valuable staff time and resources. Out of respect for the communities, we do not encourage self-funded trips to our projects either.

If you would like to see examples of our work, we do have many real life case studies showing how clean, safe water and sanitation have changed the lives of people around the world.

For further information on volunteering overseas, you may also like to try Raleigh International or VSO.

Why do you ask for more donations, I already support?

Your support is hugely appreciated, and our work depends on the kindness and generosity of people like you.

However, due to the scale of the water and sanitation crisis, we always need to continue raising funds to complete the work we have started, and to reach more communities in desperate need. Although we raise funds from many different areas and are always looking for new supporters, one of the most cost-effective methods of raising funds is to ask those who are already kindly supporting if they would consider an extra donation.

We understand if you would rather donate at your own discretion and not be asked in the future, so please let us know if there are any fundraising communications you would prefer not to receive.

Why do you phone to ask for donations?

Telephone fundraising is one the most cost effective methods of raising the funds we rely on. We focus on Direct Debits as these are essential for our long term planning, allowing us to continue the work we are already committed to and reach even more communities in desperate need.

As we cannot undertake these large fundraising campaigns from our head office, we use a telephone fundraising agency. The agency is carefully selected for its quality of service, and paid a set amount based on the number of calls made.

Funds raised this way far exceed the costs involved and are a vital source of long term income. We simply could not secure the donations we need to continue and expand our work without an agency making calls on our behalf.

We hugely appreciate all the support we receive, and understand some prefer to donate at their own discretion. If you’d prefer not to receive these calls or have any questions, please do let us know, we’d be very happy to help.

Why do you advertise on TV?

Television advertising is a very effective way of raising awareness of the water and sanitation crisis, and reaching a new and very large audience. We always look for value for money in our advertising slots, and we focus on direct debits, which are essential for our long-term growth. The amount raised by our television appeals greatly outweighs the cost.

Why do you film people drinking dirty water, can’t your film crew help?

The images in our adverts are the daily reality for some of the world’s poorest people. It’s vital that we raise awareness of this appalling situation which affects roughly one tenth of the world’s entire population. A film crew cannot provide a long-term solution – once they leave, the people featured will have no choice but to continue drinking dirty water.

However, the communities featured in our television appeals are part of our planned work and will have access to safe water very soon.

Read our ethical image policy >

Are my donations secure?

Yes, the donation pages of our website are hosted on ‘https’ – an application which protects data securely. When you visit the page asking for card details, the ‘https’ padlock symbol will appear in your web browser’s address bar to indicate that information being entered is secure. WaterAid also adheres to strict data protection protocols when processing supporters’ data.

I’ve got some spare equipment – do you want to send it to your projects?

Thank you but WaterAid does not ship equipment overseas to our projects. All materials are locally sourced – this means the community can access spare parts for the future, and it helps the local economy. We sometimes suggest selling your equipment and making a donation instead.