Water and sanitation infrastructure provide the physical conditions for hygiene. However, good hygiene behaviours are crucial in preventing disease and successfully treating existing medical conditions. 

Poor hygiene is directly linked to poor health and an increase in the spread of illness. This means children are forced to miss school; adults are not able to work to support their families; patients are at an increased risk of infection when seeking care in healthcare environments; and people’s dignity is compromised. By changing their hygiene behaviours, people can keep themselves and their environment clean, stay healthy, stop diseases from spreading, and live dignified lives.

Unfortunately, hygiene remains one of the least prioritized areas of development. One of the major challenges in getting governments and service providers to prioritize hygiene is the lack of understanding of how it links with health, social, and economic outcomes. Research shows that improving hygiene practices is often an afterthought. Moreover, standalone hygiene intervention programs are rare.

What do we mean when we talk about hygiene?

Hygiene can be hard to define as it covers so many behaviours - from personal hygiene like handwashing, washing food, and menstrual hygiene, to the use of toilets and the safe use of water. Some groups of people are also more affected by poor hygiene – especially people with disabilities, young girls, women, and babies.

Watch our short film on the importance of handwashing

Our approach

At WaterAid, we include hygiene in everything we do.

In addition to promoting and supporting the delivery of handwashing facilities in people’s homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and other community spaces, we change hygiene behaviour.

We know from experience that simply sharing knowledge of good hygiene practices rarely results in sustained behaviour change. So instead, based on evidence of what does work, we design hygiene behaviour change programs to motivate people by understanding and appealing to what they care about, taking into account the social norms and values they and their wider community share.

Key hygiene behaviours we focus on include:

  • handwashing with soap at critical moments;
  • managing water safely, from its source to its consumption;
  • hygienic use of sanitation facilities so that human feces are dealt with safely;
  • food hygiene;
  • menstrual hygiene;
  • other context-specific behaviors, such as face washing and waste management.

We monitor and evaluate our work to learn from it and share this learning with other communities to make a bigger difference. We support and encourage governments and service providers to integrate hygiene promotion into their policies and programs and resource it adequately.

We collaborate with ministries and agencies responsible for women’s issues, young people, and the environment, including the private sector and academia. And we raise awareness of the importance of good hygiene and motivate others through partnerships in water and sanitation, education, food and nutrition, and health – especially maternal and child health and trachoma.

We won’t stop until good hygiene behaviour and facilities are normal for everyone, everywhere.

Learn about how we are working with local actors to change behaviour in Maputo, Mozambique.


It’s easy to take a simple toilet for granted. But almost 1.7 billion people – that's 1 in 5 – don’t have a decent toilet of their own.


Without clean water, people are denied access to opportunities that should be open to everyone, everywhere.