New survey finds aid for water and sanitation a development priority for UK public

10 Jul 2015

A new survey has shown that the British public believes overseas aid to help poor people access clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices should rank alongside health as one of the UK’s top aid priorities, even though such programmes at present receive comparatively little.

The survey, commissioned by WaterAid and conducted by ComRes, was conducted online 14-15 May 2015; the pollsters surveyed more than 2,000 British adults for their thoughts on overseas aid.

Among the findings were that the public believes most UK foreign aid already goes to humanitarian disasters and emergencies, followed closely by aid for water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, and health – ahead of funding for economic growth and development, food and nutrition and education.

The survey also found that the public believes that the greatest proportion of foreign aid investment should go first to health, and then in a very similar proportion to water, sanitation and hygiene, followed by food and nutrition, humanitarian disasters and emergencies, and education.

In reality, water, sanitation and hygiene programmes currently make up a small fraction of UK aid spending – just 2% of bilateral spending, compared to other essential services like health, which receives 20%, and education, which receives 13% (for more details, see editors’ notes, below).

The survey also showed that one in five (19%) British adults believed aid for water, sanitation and hygiene programmes - accessing clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene - should be the top priority area of those tested.

Nearly 2.4 billion people around the world remain without access to a safe toilet and over 663 million are without clean water. The resulting diarrhoeal illnesses kill some 500,000 children each year and cause up to 50% of malnutrition.

Provision of safe water, basic toilets and good hygiene promotion saves lives, improves health and helps keep children in school – because they do not spend long hours fetching water, and because girls are less likely to drop out if they have a safe, hygienic place at school to care for themselves during menstruation.

WaterAid Director of Global Policy and Campaigns, Margaret Batty, said:

“This survey shows what WaterAid has long known – that people in the UK believe that access to safe water, sanitary toilets and good hygiene should be a top priority in overseas aid.

“Safe water and basic toilets create healthier communities, and spare women and girls their long and difficult journeys to fetch water and the indignity and insecurity of having to find a private place to relieve themselves when there is no toilet. Children are more likely to attend school and families are more able to support themselves when they are not constantly ill from diarrhoeal disease. This is a health crisis which kills half a million children under five each year.

“As our UK government representatives travel to Addis Ababa this weekend, they have a once-in-a-generation chance to tackle extreme poverty and help more children grow up to reach their full potential. We call upon them to prioritise access to water, sanitation and hygiene to ensure no one is left behind.”

This week, senior UK government representatives will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the UN’s Third International Funding for Development Conference, to discuss how to finance ambitious new UN goals to end extreme poverty and create a healthier, more sustainable world. WaterAid is calling for water, sanitation and hygiene to remain front and centre in these goals, as critical to ending extreme poverty, creating healthier communities and addressing injustices against women and girls.

New research from WaterAid, ‘Essential Element,’ has identified 45 high-priority countries, primarily in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, who are being left behind when it comes to overseas aid for water, sanitation and hygiene. In each of these countries, half or more of the population do not have a basic, safe place to relieve themselves.

As a result their citizens are at high risk of contracting waterborne diseases as well as pandemic illnesses that spread in the absence of good sanitation and hygiene practices, as seen in the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa.

As UN member-states prepare to finalise new Sustainable Development Goals this September, WaterAid is lobbying for a dedicated goal to ensure everyone, everywhere gets access to safe water and basic sanitation, and to ensure that measures for water, sanitation and hygiene are included in goals on health, education and gender equality.


Notes to editors

The ComRes survey findings

On what the UK public thinks currently receives the most investment from the UK foreign aid budget (mean score on a scale of 0 to 8 where 8 is least):

  • Humanitarian disasters and emergencies – 3.57
  • Water, hygiene and sanitation – 3.83
  • Health – 3.88
  • Economic growth – 4.49
  • Governance and conflict – 4.51
  • Food and nutrition – 4.53
  • Education – 5.02
  • Climate and environment – 6.16

On what the UK public thinks should receive the most investment from the UK foreign aid budget (mean score, scale of 0 to 8 where 8 is least):

  • Health – 3.07
  • Water, hygiene and sanitation – 3.14
  • Food and nutrition – 3.76
  • Humanitarian disasters and emergencies – 3.92
  • Education – 3.93
  • Economic growth and development – 5.85
  • Climate and environment – 6.01
  • Governance and conflict – 6.33

ComRes interviewed 2,010 British adults online between the 14 and 15 May 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all British adult aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data tables are available on the ComRes website.

About WaterAid:

  • 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, Central America and the Pacific Region, working 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 21 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 18 million people with sanitation. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at
  • Around 1,400 children die every day from diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.
  • More than 663 million people are without safe water, or one in 10 in the world.
  • Nearly 2.4 billion people are without adequate sanitation, or one in three in the world.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Carolynne Wheeler, News Manager, on or 0207 793 4485, or Suzy Vickers, PR Manager, 0207 793 4995 or or Fiona Callister, Media Relations Lead, on or 0207 793 5022. Or call our after-hours press line on 07887 521 552 or email