Good hygiene practice, and handwashing in particular, is one of the most effective ways for people – at home, at work, in school or in healthcare facilities – to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from infection.

But almost 2 billion people lack the soap and/or water they need to wash their hands at home*, meaning lives are put at risk every day – simply because people don't have access to the very basics.

Poor hygiene means children get sick and miss school, adults can't work to support their families, and patients are at risk in health centres. Whole communities miss out on opportunities to improve their lives.

In fact, many get no chance at life at all. Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of clean water and an unclean environment**.

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, food hygiene and menstrual hygiene, to the availability of clean water and decent toilets. Some groups of people are also more affected by poor hygiene – especially people with disabilities, women and girls, and babies.

Why do we talk to people about hygiene?

If you've never had a tap or running water before, getting into the habit of washing might not be as easy as it sounds – so we work with communities like Rahim's in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to promote good hygiene behaviour, keeping people safe from illness.

Dive deeper into our work on hygiene

We know through experience that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and simply explaining the importance of good hygiene isn't enough to make lasting change happen. That's why we listen to people to understand what really drives them to take up new hygiene habits. 

The ripple effect of three important things

When a community gets clean water and decent toilets for the first time they also have the power to change their hygiene habits. They can keep themselves and their environment clean, stay healthy and stop diseases spreading, and live dignified lives.

13-year-old Nampoina lives in a remote village in Madagascar. Before her community got clean water, there was nothing for her to drink at school. After the two-hour walk home, she'd spend her spare time after school fetching water for her family, leaving her exhausted and with little energy for anything else.

More time to study, play and chat with friends

Now, Nampoina has clean water close to home, and new toilets at her school. She's also learned about good hygiene practices from her teachers, and she and her friends can talk openly about managing their periods safely and with dignity.

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Now it’s fun and nice studying here, as we can drink water, wash our hands, use the shower when we want. Before there was nothing.
Nampoina, 13

How we promote good hygiene


We encourage women and girls to talk openly about managing their periods, with boys and men, too. And we provide practical essentials so they can keep clean and healthy.

Humaira, 16, collects a sanitary napkin (pad) from her class teacher dispensed from a newly installed sanitary napkin vending machine. Dhaka, Bangladesh. November 28, 2021.


Whether it's after going to the toilet, before eating or when you're preparing a meal, washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease.

A student washes her hands with soap at a handwashing station, Khulna, Bangladesh, 28 November 2021.


Strong health systems are vital for communities to protect themselves against infection. We're asking the UK government to champion clean water in every health centre.

Avelina Alfred, 23, holding her baby as Dr. Queen Kulwa Machella, 24, Clinical Officer, examines her, Nkome Dispensary, Geita District, Tanzania, June, 2019.
Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

*WHO/UNICEF (2021)
**WaterAid calculations

Top image: Addisae, 14, standing by a tap stand built by WaterAid in her community in West Gojjam, Ethiopia, May 2019.