Essential element: Aid’s continuing and critical role in financing water, sanitation and hygiene

Florida Davite, 36, with other women collecting water, Chimwala village, Ntchisi District, Malawi. May 2022.
Image: WaterAid/ Laura El-Tantawy

Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a best buy investment for governments. Yet funding for WASH is declining at an alarming rate. This powerful investment would improve health outcomes, strengthen health systems' resilience and protect climate-vulnerable communities. Every time an investment is made in WASH, our shared goal of water and sanitation for all edges closer. 

Without access to water, sanitation and hygiene for everyone, many of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will remain out of reach. The rate of progress needs to accelerate four times over to achieve the first two targets within SDG6 alone.

Under international treaties, donor governments have committed to support countries that lack the resources to realise the human rights water and sanitation, which are currently not a reality for billions of people. This year, health, climate and development ministers in the G7, alongside heads of state, all acknowledged the importance of WASH, but the money has not followed. This new briefing shows that despite record levels of total overseas aid spending, the WASH sector has seen some of the most significant cuts in recent years, costing lives and human potential.


Given the huge significance of WASH to public health, climate resilience and gender equality, cuts to WASH aid must be reversed and funding increased significantly. Donors must honour and build on the promises they made, and support the fulfilment of the human rights to water and sanitation, as well as the commitments and pledges made at the UN Water Conference in support of the Water Action Agenda.

We call on WASH donors to:

  • Reverse successive cuts in the share of aid to WASH and substantially increase financial flows, prioritising grant finance for the poorest and for countries that are most off-track in achieving SDG6.
  • Enhance the quantity and quality of WASH in aid activities in other sectors and the contribution it makes to tackling issues such as pandemic preparedness and response, antimicrobial resistance, maternal mortality, gender equality, and climate change.

  • Build an alliance among donors to ensure WASH aid supports strong national WASH systems that can make the most effective use of all financial flows, including domestic tariffs and taxes, private investment and climate finance.

Read our briefing and profiles of some of the top WASH donors to encourage those in power to help make this a reality.

Top image: Florida Davite, 36, collects water with other women in Chimwala village, Ntchisi District, Malawi. May 2022.