WaterAid announces winner of global art-ivism competition - to call on governments to urgently bring clean water and hygiene to everyone

Posted by
Anna France Williams
15 October 2020
Holly Thomas

Today, on Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid has announced that the winner of its global Art of Change campaign, chosen from hundreds of entries across 44 countries, is ‘Clean water saves lives’ created by Holly Thomas from London. Holly’s powerful piece of art-ivism will now be presented to the UK government and other government leaders worldwide, calling on them to urgently scale up funding to ensure everyone has water and hygiene to defend themselves and their communities against disease including Covid-19.

Three billion people globally - and a staggering three-quarters of homes in poorer countries - have nowhere to wash their hands with soap and water at home, making frequent effective handwashing and disease-prevention near impossible. And yet less than 1% of the funding for responding to COVID-19 has been invested in scaling up access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

WaterAid’s Art of Change competition was supported by artists Grayson Perry and Jean Jullien, photographer Aida Muluneh, and actor Russell Tovey, who shortlisted 12 inspiring pieces from a total of 285, on the theme of water and hygiene. The shortlist then went to a public vote with nearly 27,000 people choosing their favourite artwork.

Winner Holly, 22, created ‘Clean water saves lives’, a colourful piece which depicts people reaching in to clean their hands and which centres on the themes of togetherness and unity. Her prize includes 2,000 euros, kindly donated from a supporter of the arts, as well as a one-to-one mentor session with Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh who was part of the competition’s celebrity judging panel.

Winner Holly Thomas said:

“I’m thrilled to have won WaterAid’s Art of Change competition. My work centred around the themes of togetherness and unity and the hope we can achieve a world where everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation. Access to these basic facilities are vital in the fight against diseases like Covid-19, yet billions of people continue to live without them. World leaders have the power to change this and I am so happy my artwork is going to be used to encourage governments to act now and increase their investment in water and hygiene.

“Thank you so much to WaterAid, to everyone involved in this opportunity and to all those who voted! It’s been really special to be a part of this with so many talented artists and I really look forward to creating more artwork that will inspire change in the future!”

Holly’s artwork will now be presented to the UK government on 15th October together with a letter from WaterAid urging action to bring clean water and hygiene to all those in developing countries. Other countries around the world, supported by WaterAid, will also be using the artwork to urge change.

This Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid is using art as a tool for advocacy to call for governments to act. By providing clean water and hygiene services to those most in need, governments will not only help prevent the spread of Covid-19, they will also support building back resilient, healthy, equitable and productive societies.

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid’s Chief Executive, said:

“Regular handwashing with soap and water is a vital first line of defence against COVID-19 and other dangerous diseases. When governments ignore their duty to provide this, lives are needlessly lost.

“We were delighted with the huge response we had to our Art of Change campaign – people clearly see this issue as important and inspiring. The winning artwork sends a strong message to governments to increase their investment in clean water and hygiene to reach the three billion people who don’t have anywhere to wash their hands with soap and water. Acting now means that everyone, everywhere, regardless of where they live or who they are, can have the chance to live a healthy, active and productive life.” 


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For more information, please contact:

In London: Anna France-Williams, Senior Media Officer [email protected],
or Rosie Stewart, Senior Media Officer, [email protected]
or Fiona Callister, Global Head of Media, [email protected].

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors:


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org