Pregnant mothers join WaterAid to shine a light on global maternal health crisis with evocative stunt

Posted by
Rachel Sewell
18 January 2023
WaterAid/ Oliver Dixon

Download photosWatch videoWaterAid created an evocative light installation outside one of Britain’s first maternity hospitals featuring the silhouettes of pregnant women to show how every two seconds, a woman gives birth in a health centre without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.  

The striking projection of water droplets behind three expectant mothers, highlighted a shocking reality. Every year 16.6 million women give birth in hospitals and clinics without adequate water, toilets and soap, putting them and their unborn babies at risk of deadly infection.  

WaterAid’s installation was part of the charity’s Water Means Life appeal which aims to bring clean water to health centres in Mozambique and around the world. As the January evening closed in, the mothers stood in darkness in front of London’s former General Lying-In Hospital, as an act of solidarity with the millions of pregnant women worldwide who face the injustice of giving birth in unhygienic conditions. More than one million deaths each year are associated with unclean births, while infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and 11% of maternal mortality.

A quarter of health centres around the world do not have clean water on site, almost half are without adequate handwashing facilities, and four out of five in the poorest countries lack decent toilets. As a result, many expectant mothers have no choice but to collect their own water, carrying dangerously heavy buckets that put them and their babies at risk of falls and other injuries. 

In Zomba, Malawi, expectant mother Mary, 31, is painfully aware of the dangers of lack of access to clean water:  

“My third born died when he was one year and three months old due to diarrhoea. That time, we did not have a borehole in this village. The water source we were depending on… [was] contaminated.” Thanks to WaterAid, Mary’s village now has access to a borehole. Mary added, “I believe if we had this borehole back then, I would not have lost my son.” 

Despite their best efforts, it is near impossible for healthcare workers to protect their own health and provide safe maternity care without the basics of clean water and soap.  

Midwife, Devota Byukusenge, 28, holds a five hour old baby named Ineza (God’s mercy) at Mwogo Health Centre in Bugesera, Rwanda.
Midwife, Devota Byukusenge, 28, holds a five hour old baby named Ineza (God’s mercy) at Mwogo Health Centre in Bugesera, Rwanda.
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

In Mwogo Health Centre, in Rwanda’s Bugesera district, midwife Devota Byukusenge often sees female patients with diarrhoea, genital infections and skin diseases, which she attributes to the dirty water they collect from swamps to drink/cook/clean. 

Devota explains:  

“For a midwife with no water in maternity services you can imagine what we go through. Everything is at risk, be it the mother, the newborn; everyone is at risk of getting infected because of the lack of water.” 

WaterAid’s light installation is a timely reminder of the global health emergency faced by women and babies, and the risks they face from life-threatening infections. But with clean water, sanitation and good hygiene in every health centre, these risks can be drastically reduced. 

Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting WaterAid’s work to provide clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in health centres around the world, transforming the lives of mothers like Valéria. Talking about her experience of giving birth to baby Pierpina at Mecanhelas Health Centre, Niassa Province in Mozambique, Valéria said:    

"My baby was born here at the hospital. It was wonderful…Before delivery I used hot water, and after delivery I used it to wash myself…Many things need water such as bathing, cooking, drinking, and washing clothes. Water saves lives. There is no life without water. I feel good that the doctor can wash his hands with soap and water, because by washing his hands, the doctor is preventing diseases.” 

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive for WaterAid, said: 

“It is staggering that every two seconds a woman gives birth in a health centre without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene – that’s a massive 16.6 million each year who are facing this needless threat to their lives. 

“WaterAid’s light installation is a stark reminder of the importance of clean water and toilets for good maternal and newborn health. Pregnancy and childbirth is already dangerous for many women and babies. Without clean water and the associated health risks, they can be deadly. 

“Our Water Means Life Appeal is raising funds to help turn the tide on this injustice. By championing clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in all health centres around the world we can help save lives and give women and babies a better chance of a healthy future.” 

Donate to the Water Means Life Appeal 

Download photos, film and footageFor more information, please contact: 

Rosie Stewart, Senior Media Officer, [email protected] or Anna France-Williams, Senior Media Officer, [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 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets. 

For more information, visit our website, follow us on Twitter @WaterAidUK, @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress, or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram

  • 771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home[1]. 
  • Almost 1.7 billion people in the world – more than one in five – do not have a decent toilet of their own[2]. 
  • Over 300,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's more than 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes[3]. 
  • Investing in safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services provides up to 21 times more value than it costs[4]. 

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

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

[3] WaterAid calculations based on: Prüss-Ustün A, et al. (2019). Burden of Disease from Inadequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Selected Adverse Health Outcomes: An Updated Analysis with a Focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. vol 222, no 5, pp 765-777. AND The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2020) Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Seattle, WA: University of Washington. 

[4] WaterAid. (2021) Mission-critical: Invest in water, sanitation and hygiene for a healthy and green economic recovery. 


Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have been supporting WaterAid’s work to bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to communities all around the world since 2013. In that time, they have raised a phenomenal £21.3m for WaterAid’s vital work which has been awarded by the Postcode Global Trust to transform lives for good. Read more about our partnership here: