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Water supply and sanitation collaborative council

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for all – the WASH Campaign



Why a campaign now?

At the dawn of the 21st century, some 1.1 billion people on Earth are still without access to a safe water supply and over 2.4 billion are without adequate sanitation. Rapid population growth during the 1990s, particularly in the world’s megacities has meant that, by 2000, an estimated 620 million more people gained access to water supply and some 435 million more people had access to sanitation facilities. Despite laudable achievements by the sector during the International Decade for Water Supply and Sanitation (1981-1990) to meet these basic needs, there remains a tremendous backlog in terms of the billions of unserved people, mostly the poor and marginalised citizens living in squalid, unhealthy environments in the developing world.

Access to sanitation facilities is a basic human right that safeguards health and human dignity. Every individual deserves to be protected from disease and other health hazards posed by the poor disposal of excreta and human waste. Children, who are the first and the most vulnerable to fall prey to such hazards, deserve a better environment and the highest standard of living possible, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world.

The WASH campaign is an effort by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council to mobilise political support and action around the world to ensure an end to this suffering. Particular emphasis will be placed on setting a global sanitation target, without which health for all cannot be achieved.

The poverty, sickness and death toll on these populations are shameful and scandalous in these times of relative prosperity. Many of those affected are impoverished women and children living in squalor in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Some countries in Eastern and Central Europe as well as the Middle East are also suffering in misery from lack of these basic facilities. Improper disposal of human wastes is one of the developing world’s most serious public health problems. The statistics are staggering: nearly two million children die each year from diarrhoea – dehydration caused by this disease has killed more children in the last ten years than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.

The health and social consequences of this deplorable state of affairs are especially harsh for women and girls: they pay a high price in terms of loss of dignity where there are no latrines, compelling them to wait until dark to defecate and exposing them to harassment and sexual assaults; lack of education due to the absence of school sanitation facilities, increases to their already heavy workloads and infectious diseases associated with the lack of water and sanitation.

Why then do politicians and decision-makers turn a blind eye? Why are the world’s citizens not more involved in pressuring their leaders for more action in solving this crisis? The reasons are many and complex. Politicians and decision-makers consider Sanitation a dirty word. They do not realise that by giving people access to latrines and enabling them to practice basic hygiene, that the death toll on the half of humanity that do not enjoy these fundamental rights can be halved. Incentives to tackle sanitation are often lacking. There is no prestige or political capital to focus on sanitation because those who are most in need have the least political power.

Because water has always taken a key role in people’s cultures and priorities, it is only natural that they should demand water as the first priority, not sanitation or hygiene promotion. Whereas investments in water quality and quantity can reduce deaths caused by diarrhoea by 17 per cent, sanitation can reduce it by 36 per cent and hygiene by 33 per cent. Another reason why these figures are frequently overlooked is that water sector agencies are typically led by highly qualified water engineers, but they are either untrained or uninterested in sanitation or hygiene issues.

The impending water and sanitation crisis in the developing world is a crisis of governance and political will. Many governments are failing to address the needs of its poor and marginalised inhabitants who often pay a higher price than the rest of society for water and sanitation services. Unless there is a shift to increasingly involve people at the centre of water management, this precious resource will remain contentious and cause conflicts among communities, countries and widen the gap between the rich and poor. Strengthening public accountability and improving regulations, legislation and effective monitoring of water and sanitation services will improve governance and service delivery especially to the poorest of the poor. The WASH campaign aims to promote partnerships between public and private sectors and the provision of more equitable and affordable services with priority given to the poor, particularly women and children, who suffer the heaviest burden of poverty and sickness in many developing countries.

The role of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council

Mandated by a United Nations resolution in 1990 to maintain the momentum of the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade, the mission of the WSSCC is “to accelerate the achievement of sustainable water, sanitation and waste management services to all people, with special attention to the unserved poor, by enhancing collaboration among developing countries and external support agencies and through concerted action programmes.”

At its fifth Global Forum in November 2000, the Council’s blueprint for action, the Iguacu Action Programme was unanimously agreed upon by all members. The IAP provides an agenda upon which all agencies and individuals can base their activities. Its messages are relevant for everyonewho is involved in water, sanitation and hygiene, from individual householders to politicians and decision-makers

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for all – the WASH Campaign

Introduced by the WSSCC at the International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn, Germany in December 2001, the WASH campaign is a concerted global advocacy effort by members and partners of the Collaborative Council to place sanitation, hygiene and water firmly on the political agenda. The Council is working with governments, parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations, community groups and other stakeholders to promote a sanitation target, a goal that was overlooked by the Millennium Declaration that was signed by over 150 Heads of States and Governments at the United Nations General Assembly session in 2000. Concerned individuals and organisations that wish to make a difference in alleviating the suffering and improving the health and productivity of the world’poor have formed a global alliance for making safe, water, sanitation and hygiene a reality for all. WASH aims to raise the commitment of political and social leaders to achieving these goals and effecting the necessary behavioural changes through various information and communication channels, using traditional and mass media, hygiene promotion in schools, training and building local capacity in communications and improving networking and research.

With the help of its Regional and National Co-ordinators, partner organisations and allies working in concerted action in different parts of the world and complemented by advocacy strategies and guidance from the Secretariat, the Collaborative Council will test and adapt a “communication for development” methodology for the campaign that has been successfully used by UN organisations and donor agencies such as UNICEF, WHO and USAID among others, in implementing health, water and environmental sanitation programmes in the developing world.

This social mobilisation and advocacy strategy calls for a range of partnerships to be developed among all the stakeholders involved, from policy-makers and practitioners to community, religious and business leaders, schools and sector professionals, all the way down to the households and individual families. The media community features significantly in this strategy and is the thread that binds all segments of society in the quest for needed changes in policy, behaviour and practice.

Major Milestones

The WSSCC is taking advantage of major events and important milestones taking place in many countries and regions of the world to galvanise public opinion and to focus its advocacy activitiesThese milestones are: the International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn, Germany in December 2001, the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan in 2003, the WSSCC Sixth Global Forum in Dakar, Senegal and the UN-sponsored International Year of Freshwater in 2003. The Collaborative Council hopes that, with adequate resources and political will, nations can reverse one of this century’s worst public health disasters and get their economies back on track towards sustainable development..

Changing Behaviours, Policies and Practices

A new paradigm shift and revolutionary thinking are needed to change the attitudes and behaviour of those who are entrenched in traditional water and sanitation practices and knowledge. Experience has shown that clean water alone leads only to minor health improvements. Sound hygiene behaviour must be recognised as a separate issue in its own right, with adequate sanitation and clean water as supporting components. While each of the three elements has some health benefit, it is their combined effect that has far greater impact. Thus, hygiene behaviour is virtually impossible without a source of water and a safe means of disposal of human and other wastes. The WASH campaign will promote a genuine transformation of attitudes, policies and practices and persuade the international and donor communities to allocate high priority to those countries with good water supply yet poor sanitation facilities. Proper monitoring and evaluation through the development of indicators will be developed to track the campaign’s progress and help ensure its effectiveness

These are the key themes on which campaign messages are being developed and targeted at those who can and are willing to effect much needed changes in behaviour, policy and practice:

1. WATER, SANITATION AND HYGIENE CAN SAVE LIVES. Millions of people die each year due to unhygienic environments, their food and drinking water contaminated by faeces riddled with bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause diseases such as diarrhoea, the deadliest killer of children under five in developing countries. Solving the sanitation problem and helping people to practice better hygiene can save many lives and reduce incidence of disease.

2. WATER, HYGIENE AND SANITATION FOR PEOPLE: WOMEN AND CHILDREN COME FIRST. Lack of access to environmental sanitation and hygiene affects women and children most. This has also led to many incidences of violence against women and girls and endangered their reproductive health. Addressing gender issues benefits girls’ status and education, improves privacy and restores human dignity – a first step to improving the quality of life.

3. REFORMS ARE CRITICAL TO IMPROVING WATER AND SANITATION SERVICES FOR THE POOR. Governments, private water utilities and international agencies must give priority and resources to institutional reform and recognise that doing so will contribute to better practices, good governance, safeguard basic rights and responsibilities of every citizen.

4. WATER, HYGIENE AND SANITATION ARE ENTRY POINTS FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION. The problem exacts the highest toll on the poorest segments of society in both rural and urban areas. Giving high priority to these basic services at local, regional and global levels should be at the top of the political agenda and recognised as essential for eradicating poverty and contributing to sustainable development


Mobilising communities and promoting people-centred approaches

Community groups, ranging from civic, religious, educational, commercial, sports, entertainment and other stakeholders can all help to transform society and influence policy and behaviour. People-centred approaches to hygiene, sanitation and water supply can be defined by demonstrating and applying people’s rights and responsibilities to these basic services as enshrined in Vision 21 as well as in the Code of Ethics developed by the International Secretariat for Water and the WSSCC. Drawing on the successful experiences of Vision 21 in some countries, WASH activities will focus on advocating sanitation, hygiene and safe water practices , promoting appropriate technologies such as rainwater harvesting and other people-centred initiatives, and through holding public rallies, debates and multi-stakeholder dialogues, signing petitions, staging exhibitions, competitions, folk theatre presentations and other public awareness activities as well as inter-personal communications where possible.

Building partnerships across sectors and disciplines

The drinking water supply and sanitation sector acknowledges that it cannot operate in isolation from other economic and social sectors if the goals of the WASH campaign are to be achieved. As water, sanitation and hygiene are entry points for poverty alleviation, integrated water resources management and sustainable development, WASH seeks to bring together policy-makers, practitioners, community-groups, religious organisations and those working in health, nutrition, environment, education, finance, communications, human rights and other development fields. Collaborative Council members are also strengthening partnerships with professional associations, the private sector and other institutions to promote knowledge networking and experience-exchange among developing countries and the industrialised world.

Collecting science-based information and sharing experiences

The relationship between knowledge and advocacy is clear: advocacy efforts are dependent on a credible scientific basis, and without advocacy, technical knowledge will only ever reach a limited audience. In the WASH campaign, the work of various thematic groups, networks and other initiatives of the Council will be reoriented to include activities for collating, distilling and abstracting science-based knowledge for wider audiences beyond technical professionals. Best practices in knowledge management and networking are being harnessed to facilitate the process of gathering, packaging and disseminating this knowledge. Information will also be collected and exchanged on people’s own initiatives and field experiences, as well as innovative practices by communities in finding solutions.

Voices of the People

One of the key advocacy tools for the campaign will be a provocative “People’s Report” on sanitation and hygiene to be published by the Collaborative Council and its partners as a contribution to the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002.

Working with an informed and responsible media

Mass media play a valuable role in influencing the public opinion and when they devote space and time to water, sanitation and hygiene, these become legitimate topics of the public’s agenda. Politicians and other elected officials recognise that the media are arenas for advocacy and, whether in the form of an editorial, radio or TV broadcast, video or newspaper article, they can shape and influence policies and even allocate resources for specific activities. Dissemination of information and interactions among people, for which mass media have a clear role to play are widely accepted as the keys to facilitate the conversion of knowledge to beliefs, attitudes and actions. The WSSCC believes in forging partnerships with the media, through outreach and regular contacts with journalists and their associations, press conferences and briefings, via Internet-based media, dissemination of materials, co-productions on video news releases, radio and TV documentaries and by training both experts and journalists to engender responsible and accurate coverage of water and sanitation issues. Through the WASH campaign, the Council will encourage and rely on these partnerships to spread the right messages to target audiences and to enhance dialogues at local, regional and global levels.


The WSSCC Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland will provide the overall management and coordination of the global WASH campaign. Its regional and national coordinators who arelocated in different parts of the world will play pivotal roles in defining strategies relevant to their own environments and in implementing activities on the ground with the help of partner organisations and various segments of civil society. A generic set of advocacy materials is being developed by the Council and will be made available on its website. All Council members, numbering over 1100 professionals in more than 140 countries are all “goodwill ambassadors” for WASH. They range from water, sanitation and hygiene practitioners, information specialists, sociologists and community leaders, to representatives of government and non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies, bilateral and multilateral donors, regional banks, private sector, academic and training institutions, professional and community associations, among many others.

Regular information on the campaign including a calendar of events will be posted on the Council’s website and linked with those of partners’ undertaking their own campaign activities.


  • Be informed: obtain the basic facts about sanitation, hygiene and safe water by contacting the WSSCC Secretariat or the Regional and National Coordinator in your country or region.
  • Be involved: volunteer to participate in organising or supporting the WASH campaign within your community or organisation.
  • Be an advocate yourself: promote sanitation, hygiene and safe water by writing or calling your legislator, Minister or your local newspaper, radio or TV editor, making a speech at a conference, or participating in a meeting or workshop, rally or religious gathering.
  • Pass this information along to friends and colleagues
  • Join the Collaborative Council; become a sponsor or register your interest and commitment to make sanitation, hygiene and safe water for all.


For more information on the WASH Campaign, please contact:

Ms Eirah Gorre-Dale Communications and External Relations Manager Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council CH 1211, Geneva 27, Switzerland (In New York: c/o United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Water, Natural Resources and SIDS Branch Division for Sustainable Development UN DC2 - 2018 New York, N.Y. 10017, USA Tel.+1 (917) 367-2420 Fax.+1(917) 367-3391 E-mail: eirah.gorredale2@gte.net or EirahGD@unops.org

In Geneva: Mr. Laurent Favre, WSSCC Secretariat, c/o World Health Organisation (CCW, 20 Avenue Appia - CH-1211 Geneva 27 – Switzerland Tel: +41 (22) 791-3685 E-mail: lfavre@iprolink.ch

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