What is WASH?

4 min read
Alex, 6, washes his hands at water taps at his school.
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

WASH stands for water, sanitation and hygiene, three of the most important things when it comes to living a healthy life. Globally, 771 million people lack access to clean water, almost 1.7 billion people do not have a decent toilet of their own and almost 2.3 billion people in the world lack soap and water for handwashing at home.

Let’s break down why all three are so important.

Drinking Water
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

Having a sustainable supply of clean water is a basic human right, as people need it for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning. But not everyone has it, in fact, one in ten people in the world don’t have clean water close to home. Those most affected are those living in the least developed countries (LDC), who have to travel long distances by foot every day if they want clean water, or sometimes any water at all.

Governments, institutions and donors aren’t doing enough around the world to combat this problem, which has been affecting millions for too long. So, what is WaterAid doing? WaterAid’s work in over 28 countries includes helping people demand more from their governments, teaching people how to protect water from contamination, bringing clean water supplies closer to people’s homes and many more approaches.

Read more here

Girls in Timor-Leste using new toilets
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

Sanitation is all about people having access to a decent toilet, which unfortunately many do not. In fact, almost 1.7 billion people do not have a decent toilet, which is more than 1 in 5 people globally.

A decent toilet is something everyone should take for granted – at home, school, work and in public places. It’s a basic human right that protects people from dangerous diseases and provides dignity.

Governments have neglected sanitation for too long, resulting in a severe lack of finance, skills, resources and systems to ensure everyone has access to a decent toilet.

Without access to a toilet, people are forced to defecate in open areas, which can cause many diseases and contaminate the environment around them. Other issues include a lack of privacy and safety when using a toilet, especially for women and children. Another important issue that arises from not having access to a decent toilet affects people who menstruate, with many young girls missing school when they’re menstruating, as they have nowhere safe and private to manage their period.

We’re working hard with our partners on the ground to teach communities how to build toilets and the importance of having safely managed sanitation. One example of this is the village of Falitehu in Timor-Leste, where every household in the village built their own toilet, maintained them and became accustomed to it. You can read the full story here.

Clean hands
Image: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

Many people are unaware that good hygiene is a lifesaver. Something as simple as handwashing with soap reduces cases of diarrhoea. Good hygiene maximises the benefits of clean water and decent toilets, keeping people healthy for generations to come.

Hygiene is another important part of preventing and controlling infection. With poor hygiene, people are regularly ill, and this can lead to students missing school and adults missing work, making it harder for people to support their families as well as making it harder for children to get an education.

Good hygiene, as simple as handwashing with soap, can help reduce cases of diarrhoea, which is one of the many problems faced in LDCs. Healthcare facilities are especially vulnerable without access to good hygiene, however, one in three healthcare facilities globally don’t have the resources for hand hygiene where care is delivered.

But what can be done to fix this problem? As well as the need for more materials for handwashing facilities, there needs to be more information available to show why good hygiene is so important. That is what WaterAid is doing, helping change hygiene behaviour in these communities.

This includes behaviours such as handwashing with soap at critical moments, managing water safely, hygienic use of sanitation facilities, as well as food and menstrual hygiene. This is helping create change for the better. By helping communities acquire and build resources that they need, informing people on the importance of clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, as well as communicating to governments and institutions to help change lives.