Our work: in the field

What does WaterAid do?

WaterAid provides clean water, decent toilets and hygiene knowledge to people who don’t yet have access to them.

Access to clean water and toilets is a human right, and should be a normal part of daily life for everyone, everywhere.

How does WaterAid work?

With our local partners, we work with communities to build low-cost, sustainable solutions that meet their needs.

We also work with local and national government in the countries where we operate, developing solutions to help them provide water, toilets and hygiene to everyone.

And we work on an even bigger scale, too. WaterAid campaigns worldwide, showing governments and key decision-makers that investing in these basic services will have incredible positive impacts.

Why doesn’t everyone have water and toilets yet?

Many people live in countries where the national economy is too poor to create water and toilet infrastructure at the scale they need. Construction can also be difficult in many places because of extreme geography – like deserts, mountains and jungle – and not enough trained experts who know how to find long-term solutions.

Governments may also let water and toilets get left behind while focusing on other important priorities, like industry, roads, schools and hospitals.

Vulnerable people in society are affected most by this lack of water and toilets. Those living in hard-to-reach areas can be forgotten entirely, poor people can be priced out, and groups perceived as different can be denied access to them. We work with these communities to help them defend their rights and gain the water and toilets they deserve.

Why don’t people dig their own wells and toilets?

Many people do – hand-dug wells are the most common way people in developing countries get their water. Going to the toilet in a hole or outside in an area away from people is also common.

But both of these solutions are unsafe, directly leading to the spread of deadly diseases. Wells that aren’t dug correctly can be extremely dangerous to people’s health, and human waste in the open can spread disease and contaminate the water table.

Constructing safe wells and toilets requires more specialist knowledge than communities are likely to have. So our local partners work with them to build simple, effective long-term solutions, and teach the skills to maintain them, too. You can read more about our technologies >

Why don’t people move closer to a source of water?

Open sources of water are rarely safe. When open to nature they can be contaminated with household and industrial waste, animal faeces, parasites and waterborne diseases like cholera.

They are also unreliable, drying up or running out. This means needing to find a new source, which could be many miles away. A community cannot move every time this happens.

Land ownership is also an issue for most people; poor communities lack the money to simply move to new locations, let alone find new work or land to farm.

It is therefore much better and safer to create a water facility that is local, using water that needs only minimal filtering – like groundwater or rainwater – and owned collectively by a community.

Find out more about our technologies >

Do people boil unsafe water?

People sometimes boil dirty water to make it safer, but there are significant problems with this as a long-term solution.

As well as not getting rid of dirt, sourcing and burning a constant supply of fuel can be very difficult, expensive and bad for health and the environment. Boiling also does not neutralise other contaminants, like toxic metals, which poison groundwater around the world.

And it does nothing to stop millions of women and children having to walk miles for their water every day – leaving no time for other work, education or play. Instead, water boiling adds even more time and further issues to their lives.

Nobody should be forced to live this way. As a long-term solution, it is fairer, cheaper and more sustainable in every way to create a water supply that is close by and safe at its source.

Do people use water purifying tablets or filters?

Water purifying tablets and filters are common in some of the places where we work. They can be vital as a short-term solution, such as in the aftermath of natural disasters when water sources have been affected.

But these products aren’t suitable as a long-term solution to the water crisis. The industry required to manufacture and deliver enough to all of the millions of people around the world still in need of clean water, every single day, would be impossible.

But more importantly it wouldn’t be fair. Making the world’s poorest people use short-term solutions as long-term answers creates a two-tier system. Everyone deserves access to the same thing – a local, sustainable supply of clean water as a service.

Why are women and children collecting water – are men not helping?

In many of the communities we work with, families split the duties necessary to survive. Traditionally, men will earn the family’s income through agricultural or manual work; women will collect water, cook and look after children.

Providing a local source of clean water can drastically reduce the amount of time women and children need to spend collecting water, and vastly improve their health. It can also open up opportunities for women to earn an income themselves, and for children to attend school.

We regularly train women in communities how to maintain and repair their water and toilet technologies, and how to create a management board for them. Providing women with applicable skills and responsibilities can help towards gender equality and the realisation of their rights.

Why are some people in your photos still carrying water? And why on their heads?

Our partners can often provide a water point within a community, but depending on where groundwater lies and how the community is spread, it can be up to a few hundred metres away – a short walk – for some households.

In many places around the world, balancing heavy loads on the head is a cultural tradition practised for generations. There is no evidence to suggest it causes any long-term harm compared with carrying loads on the shoulder or back – however, any excessive load, no matter how it is carried, has the potential to cause painful problems over time.

On average, women and girls in developing countries carry back an average of 20kg of water each time they collect some from a remote place. Having a local source changes this completely, giving people the freedom to collect the amount they want when they want it.

I’ve seen a good clean water invention – could you use it in your work?

Although technology plays a vital role in getting clean water and toilets to people, the problem is not one that can be fixed with a ‘silver bullet’ technology.

Charitable distribution of inventions – such as filters, pumps, purifiers, water condensation units, rolling water butts or similar – has been tried many times in the past, but only ever achieves limited short-term impact.

Instead, the crisis is largely a management problem – one where government and the local private sector are desperately lacking finances, skills, coordination and dedicated institutions to provide water and sanitation services to citizens.

We want to see the eventual establishment of permanent services like these through government and service providers. This is where real innovations in approach need to happen.

In our community work, we use reliable, simple technologies that are sourced locally, so that people and their governments are better able to maintain them sustainably in the future. Please see our Technologies page for examples.

Our work: the bigger picture

Why is there still a need, despite years of aid?

Aid has provided a huge number of people with water – today, nine in ten people around the world can access a clean source, and aid has helped make that a reality.

But reaching the final one in ten is still a huge task that needs support. And toilets are at a far worse stage, with 2.4 billion people still in need of somewhere to go.

Every day, developed countries use water and sanitation infrastructure that developing countries simply cannot build on their own. People and governments around the world face extremes of geography, climate, poverty, natural disasters and conflict that make work of this scale incredibly difficult without external help.

It’s therefore crucial that aid continues to be invested in water and sanitation infrastructure for those in need, and in ways that will survive into the future. If a collective effort is made, we believe everyone, everywhere can have access to clean water and toilets within a generation.

Why don’t people demand better services from their governments?

Often, poor communities are not aware of their entitlements to the human rights of basic water and sanitation services. We work with communities to increase their awareness of rights, and create dialogue between them and their local governments, whose duty it is to provide them.

Do you fund governments?

No. However, we do work with governments and local authorities to change their policies and improve coverage and rights to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.

We do this through policy, advocacy, campaigning and dialogue with key decision-makers.

We want to see all governments build strong water and sanitation sectors, with robust systems that deliver services and keep them running. Working together helps governments be more accountable to their citizens.

How can I be sure my donation is going where it’s needed?

Corruption is a serious threat to development work. To protect ourselves, we have a rigorous accounting system and an internal audit and compliance team, who report directly to the chair of an audit committee.

Between them, we track all of our expenditure, from our planning in offices to the work in the field by our partners. We also conduct regular internal audits that offer fresh insights into improvements we can make in control, risk management, compliance and value for money.

Each year, after our own extensive accounting and reporting, we are then audited by the independent body PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Isn’t overpopulation the problem?

No. In underdeveloped regions, high birth rates among extremely poor people are partly a response to high child mortality – when a child is less likely to survive, parents are likely to have more children.

However, investing in water and toilets helps address this by improving health and reducing child deaths. A reduction in child mortality leads to a reduction in the need for families to have more children.

High birth rates can also be a symptom of a lack of women’s empowerment. Access to water and sanitation, and the time-saving and health benefits they bring, has been shown to increase girls’ school attendance and women’s opportunities. Improving girls’ education and women’s social status are important factors in producing smaller, healthier families.

Why do poor communities need to pay for the services themselves?

When we work with a community, it’s on the understanding that any solution will need their investment to be truly sustainable.

We cover the initial costs of planning and installation. Then, once the community is healthier and in a better financial position to look after the solutions, they take over – putting money aside for future maintenance and paying those elected to manage them.

Paying for services helps create responsibility and ownership of them within a community – vital to the success of a long-term solution.

All WaterAid projects are equitable and inclusive, too. This means that service bills are graded so that everyone can afford to pay them and use the facilities, regardless of gender, caste, disability or any other factor. Those who are unable to afford any grade of tariff usually agree on other ways to contribute within the community.

You can learn more about equity and inclusion in our Equity and inclusion framework (PDF).

How do I know your work is sustainable for the long term?

We know that every community faces different, individual challenges. For this reason, all our projects are designed in collaboration with communities themselves.

By starting with people’s needs, we can develop solutions most likely to succeed in the long term. We train people how to maintain and manage their community’s services, and use locally sourced parts to ensure everything can be repaired and replaced easily in the future.

We also conduct studies that judge the progress of services later down the line. These help us continually work to improve the sustainability of the services we and our partners deliver. You can visit our Annual reports page to read the results.

Why do you work in the countries you do, and not in others where there is need?

With one in nine people worldwide still lacking access to clean water, and 2.4 billion people with no place to go to the toilet, the global water and sanitation crisis is vast – unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere there is need.

To ensure our work is as efficient and beneficial as possible, it is planned years in advance to a specific global strategy. The countries we work in were chosen because:

  • There is potential for WaterAid’s work to be effective and have a long-term positive impact.
  • The country lies at the lower end of the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index, or has pockets of extreme poverty, and a significant part of the population in the country lacks access to water and sanitation.
  • There is an opportunity for WaterAid’s work to complement the work of others.
  • There is potential for us to influence other organisations to improve access to clean water and sanitation.
  • There is an opportunity for us to widen our experience and knowledge, increasing our credibility and ability to influence global change.

While we cannot be everywhere we would like to help, our international advocacy work aims to change water and sanitation policies globally, even in regions where we don’t have a physical presence.

I’m in touch with a community – can you help them?

Unfortunately, no. Due to the scale of the water and sanitation crisis, and to be as effective as possible, we work to a Global Strategy, where work is researched and planned many years in advance. Because of this, we cannot respond to requests for specific advice or assistance.

However, there are many other agencies with different ways of working that might be able to help. We recommend visiting www.developmentaid.org, www.wango.org or other similar NGO directory sites to find out more.

We also offer a range of technical information and guidance for others to use – simply visit our Publications page to find out more.

Do you work in emergencies?

Because we are a development organisation, specialising in long-term solutions, we are not set up to respond to emergency situations. However, if an emergency occurs in a region where we are already working, we will assist relief efforts in whatever way we can.

Our organisation

Are you a registered charity?

Yes, we are registered with the Charity Commission. Our registration numbers are ABN 99 700 687 141 (Australia), 288701 (England and Wales), SC039479 (Scotland), 802426-1268 (Sweden), EIN/tax ID 30-018-1674 (United States).

Are you a religious organisation?

No. We do, however, gratefully accept support from religious community groups and partner with religious organisations in country programmes.

How much of your expenditure goes on fundraising?

We are always keen to be as cost effective as possible, investing in both our current work and our ability to raise funds for future work. For example last year in the United Kingdom, we spent 76p in every pound on delivering services and making change happen, and 24p on fundraising.

For each pound put into fundraising, we raised £4.30 in donations. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters our overall income increased by 3% in 2015/16, helping us reach even more communities in desperate need.

Our internal audit team also conduct regular assessments of our systems and practices, helping us understand how we can continue to improve on our value for money. A full breakdown of our income and expenditure across all country members can be found in our Annual Reports.

What is your Chief Executive’s salary and do you have a salary policy?

We are keen to be open and transparent about how we use our funds, and share our salary costs in our Annual Reports. For 2015/16 our Chief Executive’s salary in the United Kingdom was £132,080.

WaterAid is a global organisation and the quality of our staff is crucial to reach as many people with clean water as possible. By employing highly skilled, experienced staff, we can bring lasting change to vulnerable communities. Employee salaries are regularly benchmarked against other charitable organisations, and our salary policy is agreed by our Board of Trustees.

Why is your central office in London? Isn’t that expensive?

Having our head office based in London gives us immediate access to the UK Government and other leading organisations, which is vital to our work. However, we are careful to balance out the expense this entails.

We have made considerable savings on rent since 1981, when we were originally given rent-free space within the offices of the National Water Council in Westminster. Later, when Thames Water left their Prince Consort House offices in Embankment, they donated the remaining time on their lease to us.

In 2005, once this lease expired, we moved to our current location in Durham Street, Vauxhall. At the time, rents in the area were much lower, especially compared with other more central parts of London, but recent regeneration is changing this. We are therefore reviewing our options for when the current lease ends in 2020.

To make the very best use of our existing office space, WaterAid implements an agile working system among staff – video conferencing, webinars, hot desking and flexible remote working policies – many of whom do not live in London themselves. We also outsource key administrative functions to companies based throughout the UK, which helps reduce our costs and lets us operate more efficiently.

Why don’t charities doing the same work merge together?

The huge scale of the global water and sanitation crisis means that inevitably there are many charities across the world trying to tackle it. However, attempting to merge these thousands of groups and work as one organisation would pose many challenges in logistics and practices, risking inefficiency.

There are already coalitions and networks that bring together and oversee many charities – and we regularly take part in partnerships of this kind for specific projects.

Such collaborations help to eliminate overlap and duplication of effort in areas where more than one charity may be working, and create opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge and ideas.

As a leader in the sector, WaterAid’s successful working practices are often cited by other organisations in their own work. For this reason, we readily share information through such resources as our Technologies page.

Is WaterAid a federation?

Yes, WaterAid is a global federation.

In 2009/10 we decided to adopt the principles of being a federated organisation with self-governed member organisations and an international board supported by a small ‘light touch’ secretariat, with a defined remit.

Given WaterAid’s 30 years of history and the reputation for the quality of its work, it was agreed that all parts of the global organisation would operate under the name of WaterAid and that the global organisation would be known as WaterAid. Members are independent and interdependent organisations with their own board and management structures but bound together by a shared identity encompassing our vision, mission, values and global strategy and working to agreed standards.

How did the WaterAid federation come about, and which countries are part of the federation?

The federation includes the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Japan and India. 

Our journey started in 1981 in the UK as a response to the UN 1981-1991 Decade of Drinking Water and the UK’s ‘Thirsty World’ conference. Over the subsequent two decades our country programme work developed across Africa and South Asia.

In 2003 we were approached by AquaAid, an Australian organisation, rooted in the water industry, who admired and sought to replicate the WaterAid model in Australia. They wished to benefit from WaterAid’s experience and the strong WaterAid brand. WaterAid granted a licence to AquaAid to use the WaterAid brand and an agreement was signed in December 2003. In March 2004 WaterAid Australia was officially launched by the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs. WaterAid supported WaterAid Australia financially to enable them to develop their work in Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste. WaterAid Australia in turn supported existing WaterAid programmes across Africa and Asia.

WaterAid America was established by WaterAid in order to strengthen relationships with public bodies and institutions, to raise funds efficiently and to advocate in America. In 2003 WaterAid America Inc was formally registered as a non-profit corporation and as a 501(c)3 (tax exempt) organisation. WaterAid America were licenced to use the WaterAid brand in April 2004. The relationship between the UK, Australia and America became known as the WaterAid ‘Alliance’.

In 2008 the opportunity to create a further alliance member in Sweden arose. WaterAid Sverige was registered as a Fundraising Foundation in Sweden in May 2009 and publicly launched in June 2009. A licence to use the name was signed with WaterAid in June 2009.

Discussions were also beginning on how WaterAid India could increase its impact and reach in India. As the Indian liaison office of a UK charity we were limited in the scope of the work we could undertake and also in the type of partnerships we could establish. We were also required by law to reapply for permission to operate every three years, a precarious position for a charity engaged in long term sustainable development. In March 2010 we registered Jal Seva Charitable Foundation as a public limited company in India, chaired by the Head of Region for South Asia, Tom Palakudiyil. In April 2016 WaterAid India formally became an associate member.

We had also had interest about working in Japan, which was a country we had identified to work in due to their significant investment in WASH. In 2012 we recruited Kaoru Takahashi to set up our office, recruit a board, start fundraising and to influence the Japanese government. It has taken a while to build our presence in Japan, where being seen as a credible organisation is so important, but we have a great board, relationships with some important corporate supporters and have done some great advocacy work, for example with the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

What is WaterAid international?

WaterAid international (WAi) was created in 2010 to support the development of our global organisation and to facilitate global decision making, global standards and co-ordination of global activities. It owns the name and logo and is responsible for establishing WaterAid member organisations in new countries. It comprises the international board and a small secretariat.

Fundraising and support

I'd like to make a donation.

That's great! You can donate via our donate page

I’d like to make a donation as a gift for someone.

Please visit Shop for Life – our online gift donation service.

How much does a well cost?

It is very hard to give the general cost of a well, as the costs of specific items vary from country to country. But every community also has its own needs – they may need an entirely different kind of solution and training, which could mean different costs.

We also prefer not to use donations for specific items or projects – this helps us keep our administrative costs low. Instead, we designate donations as ‘unrestricted’ general funds, supporting our work in all the countries where we operate. This give us flexibility in how we work and how we can help people.

Can I visit or volunteer to work on one of your overseas projects?

WaterAid does not send volunteers to projects. We believe it is vital that each community take responsibility for constructing, maintaining and managing their project themselves – receiving specialist support and training from our local partner agencies in the region.

Because the communities we work with are often in very remote areas, any visit would also require detailed planning and use valuable staff time and resources. Out of respect for the communities, we do not encourage self-funded trips to our projects either.

If you would like to see examples of our work, we do have many real life stories showing how clean water and sanitation have changed the lives of people around the world. For further information on volunteering overseas, you may like to try Raleigh International or VSO.

Why do you advertise on TV?

Television advertising is a very effective way of raising awareness of the water and sanitation crisis, and reaching a new and very large audience. We always look for value for money in our advertising slots, and we focus on direct debits, which are essential for our long-term growth. The amount raised by our television appeals greatly outweighs the cost.

Why do you film people drinking dirty water, can’t your film crew help?

The images in our adverts are the daily reality for some of the world’s poorest people. It’s vital that we raise awareness of this appalling situation which affects roughly one tenth of the world’s entire population. A film crew cannot provide a long-term solution – once they leave, the people featured will have no choice but to continue drinking dirty water.

However, the communities featured in our television appeals are part of our planned work and will have access to clean water very soon.

Find out more about our ethical image policy >

Are my donations secure?

Yes, the donation pages of our website are hosted on ‘https’ – an application which protects data securely. When you visit the page asking for card details, the ‘https’ padlock symbol will appear in your web browser’s address bar to indicate that information being entered is secure. WaterAid also adheres to strict data protection protocols when processing supporters’ data.

I’ve got some spare equipment – do you want to send it to your projects?

Thank you but WaterAid does not ship equipment overseas to our projects. All materials are locally sourced – this means the community can access spare parts for the future, and it helps the local economy. We sometimes suggest selling your equipment and making a donation instead.