Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are vital for living a dignified, healthy life.

Changing hygiene behaviour is one of the most difficult aspects of WaterAid’s work. But it can’t be overlooked. Hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap are critical to halting the spread of diseases and maximising the benefits of access to clean water and decent toilets.


Around the world, poor hygiene is making children sick, putting mothers and babies at risk in hospitals, and stopping young women from staying safe and well on their period. This shouldn’t be normal.

Promoting hygienic behaviour is difficult because it involves changing habits and challenging traditional norms. But when you don’t have enough water to drink and cook with, let alone use for washing, you are forced to make a choice between what is essential and what is not. So hygiene promotion has to go hand in hand with access to safe water and toilets.

Take handwashing, for example. Just washing our hands with soap can cut cases of diarrhoea almost in half, saving hundreds of lives every single day. And it can have a positive effect on children’s education too.


have no water source at their healthcare facility.

WHO/UNICEF (2020) WASH in Health Care Facilities data update

a nurse washing his hands
Image: WaterAid/Remissa Mak

670million people in the world

have no handwashing facility at home at all.

WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.

a child washing their hands
Image: WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

of the population

in Timor-Leste don't have access to handwashing facilities with soap and water.

WHO/UNICEF (2019) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2017.

Hands being washed with soap
Image: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

Menstrual hygiene management is an integral part of our work in hygiene. Menstrual hygiene is an essential part of WaterAid’s work and of our contribution towards gender equity in homes, communities, education, health and the workplace.

Creating spaces where people can speak openly about menstruation is absolutely critical. This enables people to understand the facts necessary to enable women and girls to take care of themselves during periods, and to tackle the taboos and misconceptions around menstruation through informed discussions.

Women and girls, who are often left out of decision making, also need to be taught to voice their needs and concerns, and contribute to making decisions and finding solutions.

We promote and provide water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that are suitable for MHM and for disposing menstrual hygiene materials, such as disposable pads. It is essential that women and girls have somewhere clean, private and safe to wash themselves, change their materials, wash reusable cloths with soap and clean water, and dry them effectively.