Four decades of change

5 min read
Women from Amberomena village pictured during the water arriving celebration. Amberomena village, Belavabary commune, Moramanga district, Alaotra Mangoro region, Madagascar, September 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

This year, we're reflecting on 40 years of WaterAid. But we wouldn’t be where we are now without our partners in the UK and across the globe.  

In 1981, UK water companies united to find a solution to the global water crisis. Together, they founded WaterAid.

Today, those water companies are our partners.

They’ve worked tirelessly alongside us from the start – bringing us closer than ever to a shared vision where clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are normal for everyone, everywhere.  

Over the past 40 years, we’ have grown from a small, engineering-focused UK charity to a global organisation operating in 28 countries. And through it all, our founding partners have remained at the heart of what we do.  

we have grown from being a small engineering focused UK charity to become a global organisation operating in 28 countries. And throughout that growth, our founding partners have remained at the heart of what we do.  

Why we work in partnership

Working in partnership is central to our vision of a world where everyone, everywhere has access to water and sanitation.  

We can only achieve this by collaborating with a wide range of partners from government, social justice movements and universities, as well as the UK water industry, the corporate sector andphilanthropy and trusts.

Water industry employees, contractors and customers are fundamental to our progress so far.

It may start with installing taps and toilets but it goes much further - from helping people understand the importance of good hygiene, to changing policy at government level.  

Ultimately, working in partnership means we can provide the solutions and build the systems that change infrastructure, creating country-wide change, transforming communities.   

WaterAid's achievements 

For 40 years, we’ve collaborated with partners because that way everyone benefits. We know that it works and that together we make a bigger difference. 

  • We've reached 27 million people with clean water, 27 million with decent toilets and 20 million people with good hygiene . 
  • We work in 28 of the world’s poorest countries and have brought clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to some of the hardest to reach communities.  
  • We’ve worked with local partners to install taps and toilets and roll out hygiene training.   
  • We’ve also convinced governments to change laws, and rallied support from people around the world to bring about lasting change on a massive scale.  


The funds raised by partners and individuals help us get vital services to people who need them most. Their collective dedication and commitment help us make a bigger difference. 

The Severn Trent Mountain Challenge was set up and remains the longest hiking event in our partnership history since 1993.

Severn Trent Mountain Challenge, UK, July 2014 . The Severn Trent Mountain Challenge was set up and remains the longest running mountain challenge/walking event in our partnership history (1993)
The Severn Trent Mountain Challenge in 2014.

Since 1981, the UK Water Industry has raised over £47 million through employee fundraising and working with suppliers and partners.  


Our passionate volunteers are at the heart of what we do. Many of our partners sign up to become a speaker for us, spreading awareness of our work with talks or donate their time to help out at a fundraising event. Each year, employees from our partner organisations donate thousands of hours to fundraise, campaign and raise awareness, meaning that our work is truly grounded in communities across the UK. 

We became one of Glastonbury Festival's chosen charity partners in 1994. Since then, hundreds of volunteers from across the water industry have dedicated their time to the festival.

Rushy who works for Severn Trent Water, volunteering for WaterAid for the second time at Glastonbury.
Rushy who works for Severn Trent Water, volunteering for WaterAid for the second time at Glastonbury..


We work closely with local organisations on the ground to deliver projects and make sure they’re built to last. Our campaigning work is just as important because influencing policymakers helps lay the foundations for a future where countries can deliver and manage their own water and sanitation services.  

To mark World Toilet Day in 2020, our Toilet Stories exhibition supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery explored the lives of those affected by a lack of decent toilets - one in four people globally - and those whose lives have been transformed by them. By bringing this exhibition online is just one example of how our partners have adapted and responded during the pandemic to ensure that we can continue to reach key policy makers with our vital messaging. 

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: 

“Sanitation is a universal human right. But for many communities around the world, physical and affordable access to sanitation that is safe, hygienic and secure is not a reality. Thanks to the support of players, we’ve seen the incredible impact investing in clean water and decent toilets can have for communities, schools and health centres. We’re delighted to be working with WaterAid on the Toilet Stories exhibition, keeping that conversation going, shining a light on this issue and reminding us all how the humble toilet keeps us safe and well.” 

Skill sharing 

People working across the water industry give WaterAid support that goes way beyond funding and awareness-raising.

Our commitment to deliver sustainable change is one of the things that sets our longstanding partnership apart. By connecting the UK water industry and other partners with peers in other countries, we enable a unique exchange of technical expertise, leading to sector-strengthening and leadership development opportunities.  

We're building capacity in ways that last – prioritising sustainable systems, institutions and services. And we are seeing a step change in delivering value for money and achieving the long-term sustainable change needed to allow communities to build and maintain systems that give them the clean water and decent toilets they need.   

Here are just a few examples of projects our partners have supported

Looking ahead 

This year marks the launch of our new global strategy.  With the support of our partners and individuals, we can use our 40 years of experience and our pooled expertise in climate adaptation and mitigation to deliver reliable water facilities topeople in some of the world’s poorest countries. Together, we will make sure that clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are consistent even if the weather isn’t.

To mark 40 years of WaterAid, we’re inviting you to recognise this milestone through £40 for 40 Years – a fundraising challenge with a difference. To take part, think up a challenge based on the number 40 – it can be anything you like! Then simply complete your chosen 40 any time this year.