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.
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 more than 650 million people still lacking access to safe water and a staggering 2.3 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 more than 650 million people worldwide still lacking access to safe water, and 2.3 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 www.devdir.org, www.developmentaid.org 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.