Life-threatening illnesses such as cholera and diarrhoea are preventable with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. That they are still costing lives today is unacceptable.

When clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are not a normal part of daily life, the impacts on health and wellbeing are devastating.

People are at high risk of potentially fatal diseases such as cholera and serious conditions such as blinding trachoma. Most of these are transmitted through water, hands, soil and food contaminated by human faeces, spread because properly protected water sources, toilets and good hygiene habits are absent or inadequate.

The effects go beyond the illnesses themselves. It is estimated that half of undernutrition is associated with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), because diarrhoeal diseases and parasites prevent people from absorbing nutrients from food. Undernutrition in the first two years of life causes stunting, which permanently damages children’s long-term physical and mental development.

Frequent illnesses and undernutrition keep children from attending school and adults from going to work, limiting students’ potential and reducing adults’ income. All of this contributes to a vicious cycle of poverty, and impacts on a country’s economic growth and development.

And without clean water and soap in healthcare facilities, staff and patients cannot deliver quality, safe healthcare, putting the lives of patients – especially vulnerable mothers and babies – in danger.

WaterAid's groundbreaking approach to hygiene intervention

In Nepal, a new mother will take her baby to an immunisation clinic at least five times in the first nine months of the child's life. It’s the perfect opportunity to promote hygiene behaviour change and improve infant health.

A child being immunised in Nepal. WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

Our approach

When more developed nations came to understand the importance of clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for health, it triggered massive investment in public infrastructure and legislation. People in the countries where we work deserve exactly the same.

We participate at global events such as the World Health Assembly to influence governments to increase prioritisation of WASH in international and national health policies and strategies. We also advocate for decision-makers to embed WASH in relevant interventions and health programmes, such as the long-term plans to put a stop to cholera in Zambia:

We focus on health in our research, programmes, policy and advocacy, boosting our efforts to improve access to clean water, toilets and hygiene as a key health intervention. And we foster integration between sectors and ministries, helping those working in WASH, health, education, nutrition, and more, to work together to make a bigger difference.

Through our innovative programmes and research, we influence changes from the national level to individual behaviours, to ensure improvements last. For example, in Tanzania, together with the SHARE consortium and the Soapbox Collaborative, we have partnered with the Ministry of Health to improve water and sanitation provision in maternity units, as part of Government efforts on maternal and newborn health. In Malawi, we are working with the Government and non-governmental partners to promote hygiene and sanitation to communities to eliminate blinding trachoma.

Only by making clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere, can we prevent disease, tackle undernutrition, and deliver quality health services that keep people well and unlock their potential.

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