The issue explained

Sustainability is about ensuring that water and sanitation services continue to work over time. It's about developing the skills of communities, governments and local service providers to manage, finance and maintain services. And it's also about creating permanent changes in hygiene practices through hygiene promotion programmes.

Water and sanitation services are under threat when there is insufficient money and skill available to maintain them on an ongoing basis. In addition, climate variability, climate change, disasters, and increasing pressure on water and land resources from growing populations, all affect the sustainability of water and sanitation services.

Our approach

First, sustainability means selecting the right technology for the local situation. There is no point, for example, in installing a water pump in a remote rural village if the pump requires lots of spare parts that are only produced in another country and are expensive to buy. As soon as something breaks, it is likely to fall into disrepair.

To ensure the most appropriate technology is used, we work with local partners and local people to carry out an assessment of the area and then agree on the best ways to meet the water and sanitation needs of the community. We also make sure we build the skills and capability of local governments, service providers and our local partners so they can carry on the work in the longer term.

Second, it means involving local communities every step of the way – from project planning right through to training and maintenance. If the local people who are going to use the new facilities are not involved, they are less likely to feel ownership of the project and the chances of failure are much higher. 

This is also true when a project is aiming for 'behaviour change' – for example, to stop people defecating in the open. If everyone is to change their behaviour permanently, the whole community has to understand the benefits and support the process from the start.

Finally, improving the sustainability of water and sanitation services is about making solutions more effective through development and innovation. We are exploring new ways of working, such as focusing on ways to improve surface water storage. Basic technologies, such as sand-dams and rainwater harvesting for example, can help ensure that when it does rain, more water is stored in a safe way for drinking later.

Read about WaterAid's latest research and reports on sustainability >

Find out more about the issues involved in our work:

Children | Financing | Governance | HealthSocial exclusion | Urban | Women