Improvements to water supply and sanitation services should deliver permanent benefits to their users. And hygiene and sanitation behaviour changes established now should last into the future.

In many of the countries where we work, the systems and institutions needed to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are sustainable face multiple challenges and constraints. Communities can struggle to keep services working on their own, and good WASH behaviours can be lost without continual promotion and reinforcement.

The provision of services can be hindered by insufficient financing, skills shortages, poor governance, climate variability, climate change, ecosystem degradation, pollution and a growing demand for water resources.

To achieve universal and lasting access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene by 2030, attention must be given to the sustainability of services and behaviour change. 

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SusWASH

SusWASH was a five-year initiative aimed at addressing the long-term challenges of service and behaviour sustainability, and ensuring WASH is available to all groups in society.

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Our approach

Ensuring that services and behaviour changes are sustainable is a challenge. It requires more than choosing appropriate technologies, holding training exercises, or encouraging community ownership.

Hygiene and sanitation behaviour changes will only be permanent when good practices are continually promoted, based on an understanding of why people change their habits. Permanent services will only be established if the systems and institutions required to manage, finance and support them are created, strengthened and maintained.

We aim to address all the issues that affect the sustainability of services and behaviours, whether they are social, financial, environmental, institutional, legal, capacity-related or technical. We are committed to ensuring permanent services and behaviour change through a mixture of activities as part of a systems strengthening approach, including:

  • Working with governments and other local groups at all levels, including communities, to identify and address barriers to universal, safe and sustainable WASH.
  • Helping to create a shared vision among government and other local people and groups of the changes needed to achieve universal, safe and sustainable WASH. 
  • Creating a strong demand for services.
  • Ensuring services are delivered to a high quality and promoting good practice in service delivery among governments and service providers.
  • Developing the skills and processes of WASH service providers to better monitor, plan, finance, manage and deliver WASH services. 
  • Supporting national systems and pushing for a strong, enabling national policy and regulatory environment.
  • Strengthening accountability and customer satisfaction mechanisms using a rights-based approach.
  • Supporting local private sector initiatives that strengthen supply chains.
  • Partnering with education and health services to ensure that sanitation and hygiene behaviour change messaging is continually relayed.
  • Building the resilience of service users to cope with external threats to sustainability.
  • Carrying out in-depth research into specific areas that have impact on sustainability.
  • Supporting national and local governments to collect, manage and use up-to-date WASH data to prevent and identify service breakdowns and inform decision-making.

WASH system building blocks

We work to strengthen WASH systems. Here’s our conceptualisation of the WASH system showing actors (people and institutions), factors (social, economic, political, environmental, technological) and interlinkages that influence the achievement of universal, safe and sustainable WASH. 

WaterAid’s conceptualisation of the WASH system showing actors (people and institutions), factors (social, economic, political, environmental, technological) and interlinkages that influence the achievement of inclusive, sustainable, universal access to WASH.
WaterAid’s conceptualisation of the WASH system showing actors (people and institutions), factors (social, economic, political, environmental, technological) and interlinkages that influence the achievement of inclusive, sustainable, universal access to WASH.
Image: WaterAid

Latest resources and expert opinion

Top image: Nadongo Federesi, 28, a technical supervisor, fixes a loose water tap in Buyende District, Uganda, April 2023. This work was funded by the European Union and UN-Habitat.

Second image: Chak Phat and granddaughter drink clean water from a tap outside a hospital in Battambang, Cambodia. August 2016

Page last updated: May 2024