Consultancy – Safe/Small Water Enterprise Consumer Knowledge Curation Phase 1

RWSN Member Organisations, Water4, Safe WaterNetwork, Water for Good and Water Mission have released an interesting consultancy opportunity.

Download the ToRs

Deadline is 19 February 2021

Please note that this is not an RWSN project so please contact Anna Rohwer at Water4 for queries and to apply

Srilekha Chakraborty uses art in her activism for women’s health – 2020 Ton Schouten Awardee for WASH Storytelling

re-posting from IRC WASH

Srilekha is a young professional from India with a focus on WASH and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) advocacy with indigenous tribal women and girls.

Advocacy through art with rural communities

She is driven by her close experience with how in poor, rural areas, discussions on gender, menstrual hygiene and women’s health take a back seat. In many of her activities, she is using art to demystify taboos with adolescents and youth.

An example of what this type of approach can lead to is the story of two young girls – Zeba and Anjum – who made a model of a uterus with Gulmohar flowers during an art session that Srilekha conducted. The red colour symbolizes power, strength and period blood whereas the blooming flower represents good health.

Another art project of Srilekha links to the flagship campaign of the Central Government of India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which promised to bring ‘Comprehensive Sanitation and Hygiene’ amongst people in rural India. However, the wall writings on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan have been speaking about toilet construction and cleanliness only. There were no wall writings about menstruation to encourage people to challenge the taboo. So, Srilekha mobilised artists and communities for a ‘menstruation matters’ mural project. You can read more about this project in her blog here.

Engaging local government and global platforms in period talk

Whereas engaging with communities is at the heart of her work, she also recognises the importance of government leadership. In 2019, she curated a campaign called Freedom to Bleed during the Independence Day in India. She convinced a local politician to help young girls actually experience freedom and independence from the stigma of blood. They reached out to more than 1000 women and girls in a week. The man speaking in the opening scene of the video below is the first political leader who ever spoke about periods in that constituency.

Srilekha is also dedicated to elevating stories from grassroots levels to as many people and platforms as possible. Through her #PeriodsPeCharcha (Let’s Talk Periods) campaign she addressed issues of indigenous remote communities in Jharkhand, a state in eastern India. In this video, she talks about menstrual hygiene challenges faced by young girls in the area.

About winning the Ton Schouten Award for WASH storytelling

In the words of our selection committee members – Vida Duti, Liduin Schouten, Sean Furey and Dave Trouba – Srilekha seems to do her communications work purely driven by passion and heart to help others, she naturally focuses on social inclusion and uses a wide variety of channels and forms of communication, from social media messages to videos and blogs. 

In the words of Srilekha? See this video or read her response below it.

It is interesting that I win this award in a time that is technically one of the darkest of all we have seen as a generation. This award comes to me as a hope that there is a lot of work that is left to do and the show must go on! It will help me continue my fight on the ground.

I would like to thank all the organisations and mentors and the community people who supported me throughout my journey and made me someone worthy to receive this award, I am honoured and it will take some time to sink in.

While there’s a lot of fund-crunch that civil society organisations at the grassroots level are going through and projects on women’s health are receiving a severe blow, I wish to use this award money to reach out to the most vulnerable section of adolescents and youth and keep creating more art, storytelling and workshops on menstruation. Because periods don’t stop for pandemics and neither should our activism.
– says Srilekha.

What’s next?

We received a rich and inspiring selection of candidates, whom we’re hoping to continue to be in touch with throughout the year. Keep an eye on this page dedicated to all things Ton Schouten Award for information about the award and updates on the work of talented young communicators in the WASH community. Srilekha has shared some great ideas about what she is planning to invest her award prize in. We will also share updates on her activities on this page. So stay tuned.

Five human rights principles that put people centre stage in water, sanitation and hygiene responses to COVID-19

Posted on WaterAid blog on 1 May 2020 in Equality, inclusion and human rights, re-posted on RWSN blog on 4 May 2020.
Authors: Louisa Gosling, Naomi Carrard, Hannah Neumeyer and Virginia Roaf. 

WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Empowering and increasing the dignity of marginalised and vulnerable people will help us emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with healthier societies and revitalised opportunities for development and peace. Louisa Gosling, Naomi Carrard, Hannah Neumeyer and Virginia Roaf outline how applying the principles of human rights can save lives now and in the future.

The virus does not discriminate, but its impacts – and our responses – do.

– UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

We are all doing our best to minimise the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Overwhelmingly, the response across the world has been to reduce transmission through distancing, handwashing and strengthening public health systems. We know water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are central to the COVID-19 response. So how can human rights help?

A human rights lens reveals unexpected opportunities as we respond to the current crisis and plan for the future. Applying the human rights principles – equality and non-discrimination, participation, transparency, accountability and sustainability – deepens WASH responses to COVID-19, helping to both protect everyone now and build more equitable and sustainable societies.

What we do now will shape the post-COVID world and our resilience to future threats, whether climate change or other health crises.

Equality and non-discrimination

The risks COVID-19 presents are not borne equally. We are seeing evidence of this all over the world. Older people, people with health problems, people living in inadequate housing (especially those in dense settlements without access to basic services), homeless people, migrant workers, and those who have to go out to work every day to survive or who are fulfilling a necessary if undervalued role such as care work or street cleaning – all are at higher risk of contracting the virus because they are less able to protect themselves with good hygiene and physical distancing. They are also most severely affected by distancing or lockdown provisions, with eked-out livelihoods vanishing or curtailed.

People who cannot afford to pay their water and sanitation bills risk losing essential services. Independent UN human rights experts have called on governments to prohibit disconnections and to extend continuous access to water for people who don’t already have it. Governments are obliged to ensure access to services. They must intervene so that service providers continue to deliver, and do not face financial challenges in doing so. This is no small feat, given the breadth and diversity of public, private and community water and sanitation services providers, but reinforcing the recognition of these basic services as public services is critical for the realisation of human rights.

Sanitation workers perform vital work and yet are especially exposed to COVID-19. They are often discriminated against, working without protection or dignity. Cleaners, care workers and the many women and children who fetch water for themselves and for others are also at risk of being exposed to the virus.

As with many areas of development, women – despite their central role – are often ignored or marginalised in decisions, so their needs and the specific risks they face are not considered. But many organisations are researching and documenting the widespread gendered implications of the pandemic and response measures. Gender justice should be central in the WASH response, and there is a growing imperative for collaboration with women’s organisations and leaders to find ways to do this.

Human rights to water and sanitation (and other rights) demand that our response to COVID-19 addresses these inequalities. They promote and protect the voices of people who are discriminated against, marginalised and vulnerable, and ensure responses to the virus proactively include them.

Collaboration between WASH actors and organisations representing the rights of marginalised groups – including those focused on disability, age, slum dwellers, prisoners, children or women – brings new understanding and action that ensures inclusive water and sanitation services. Innovative solutions are already emerging from such collaboration, making hygiene messaging and handwashing facilities accessible for people with disabilities, and relevant to diverse populations in challenging settings.WaterAid Papua New Guinea giving loud hailers, inks and papers for printing awareness-raising materials, supporting local health authorities in preparedness for COVID-19.

WaterAid Papua New Guinea

WaterAid Papua New Guinea has provided loud hailers, inks and papers for printing awareness-raising materials, supporting local health authorities in preparedness for COVID-19.


The AIDS and Ebola epidemics taught the importance of engaging with affected communities. Building trust between government and civil society is critical for suitability, effectiveness and sustainability of responses, to ensure the smooth flow of accurate and helpful information and to avoid indirect or unintended harm.

Physical distancing measures are creating more barriers for many and reducing participation and voice, particularly where participatory processes now rely on the internet. There is a proven gender digital divide, exacerbated by poverty. For example, OECD data indicate that, globally, women are 26% less likely than men are to have a smartphone (70% less likely in South Asia and 34% in Africa).

National coordination mechanisms (such as WASH clusters) should include civil society and organisations representing different sections of the population. This can help governments identify vulnerable people and put in place measures that effectively support those who would otherwise be left behind.

Looking further ahead, making modes of participation and partnership more inclusive could lay foundations for more locally led development beyond the pandemic.

Transparency and access to information

Transparency and access to information are intrinsically linked to participation. If information is not accurate or well-understood by the intended recipients, it has no value. Further, while clear and consistent messaging is important to reinforce behaviour change, it should be tailored to differing contexts. How can people living in informal settlements or remote rural areas respond to ‘wash your hands’ messaging if they don’t have a secure, on-plot supply of water?

To reach the most marginalised people we need to be creative, and to communicate in local languages through a range of channels that are appropriate for the places and people concerned. For example, many countries use radio, such as TanzaniaRwanda and Nepal, where jingles are even broadcast by loud-hailers to communities without FM coverage. Sign language and braille can be used to reach people with hearing or visual impairments.

In Nigeria, local civil society networks and the media are communicating through network members in communities to share information and drive campaigns on improving WASH in healthcare facilities. More ideas can be found in resources such as BBC Media Action’s Guide to community engagement at a distance.

And in South Africa residents in informal settlements are monitoring water and sanitation access during the COVID-19 crisis, sharing the data with city authorities and the media. This initiative has already resulted in improved service delivery and new channels of collaboration with city authorities.A man reads awareness-raising messages through a loud hailer around a community in Bangladesh.WaterAid Bangladesh

A man reads awareness-raising messages through a loud hailer around a community in Bangladesh.


Accountability between governments, civil society and development agencies is as critical in a crisis as ever. We are seeing unprecedented funds raised and distributed in response to COVID-19, but how these funds will be used and accounted for is not always clear.

Accountability is essential for minimising corruption and for achieving services that are equitable, sustainable and high quality. This is important both for the emergency procurement and distribution of benefits in the immediate response to COVID-19, and for the long-term sustainability of WASH services.

Unfortunately, accountability mechanisms and relationships in WASH are often weak. Civil society networks must be able to advocate for transparency and accountability in the WASH response to this crisis, to monitor how much of the funding made available for the pandemic is invested with human rights considerations and for the sustainable development of WASH services. There may be more opportunities because the pandemic has raised the profile of WASH, which can create space for WASH actors to contribute to broader accountability initiatives. An example linking WASH to the coalition on peace building and state building in Sierra Leone demonstrates this potential.

Governments are also accountable for the way they are imposing containment measures that limit people’s ability to go out, to work, to fetch water and to use toilets. In many countries we are seeing excessive force used to ensure compliance with lockdown, criminalising people who must leave their home to meet basic needs. This violates human rights and can be detrimental to reducing the spread of the virus if it creates fear and destroys trust between government and communities, as learned from the HIV response. In moments of disaster response the values of open government can come under intense pressure – but can also meaningfully contribute to better outcomes where there is strong cooperation and trust between the authorities and the people.


Poor sustainability and service levels are already a huge barrier to the realisation of people’s rights to water and sanitation, often due to weak systems. These can be strengthened or weakened by the way in which we respond to this pandemic.

Sustainability is a human rights principle – we must not lose progress that has been made. The hope for the post-COVID-19 world – if we use human rights to guide us – is to be in a stronger position than before. This means improved access to water and sanitation for vulnerable and marginalised people; that we more deeply understand how to eliminate inequalities; and that we are more prepared for future health risks and the inevitable impacts of climate change.

How we emerge from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic will have profound and long-lasting impacts on how we all live, work and relate to each other. We are still barely able to imagine the immensity of economic and social change that will emerge.

Human rights put people centre-stage. Empowering and increasing the dignity of people who are currently marginalised and vulnerable will help us emerge from this crisis with healthier societies and revitalised opportunities for development and peace. Human rights principles must guide our responses and will lead us to better, more inclusive, more sustainable results, protecting and saving lives now, and in the future.

Louisa Gosling is WaterAid’s Senior WASH Manager for Accountability and Rights, Naomi Carrard is Research Director at Institute for Sustainable Futures – University of Technology Sydney, Hannah Neumeyer is Head of Human Rights at WASH United and Virginia Roaf is Senior Advisor at Sanitation and Water for All.

This blog is the result of collaboration involving WaterAid, Sanitation and Water for All, Institute for Sustainable Futures – University of Technology Sydney, WASH United, End Water Poverty, Kewasnet, Rural Water Supply Network, Water Youth Network, Hope Spring Water, Simavi and Water Integrity Network.

Authors: Louisa Gosling, Naomi Carrard, Hannah Neumeyer and Virginia Roaf. 

WaSH and Coronavirus – knowns, unknowns, and implications for monitoring and management

A novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 (or COVID-19), is believed to have originated in bats, and has rapidly progressed to a global pandemic that has infected hundreds of thousands of individuals (1, 2).

Author: Dr. Michael B. Fisher, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Acknowledgement to Dr. Mark Sobsey for critical review and input.

Ensuring adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene measures is essential to controlling the spread of COVID-19 (1), but much remains unknown with respect to the optimizing and quantifying the impacts of WaSH interventions and best practices in combating the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Water and Hygiene
Adequate hand and personal hygiene prevent COVID-19 transmission. Handwashing with soap (3) or alcohol-based hand sanitizer (4) is an effective means to disrupt transmission, along with social distancing, identification and isolation of cases, contact tracing and follow-up, etc. Adequate quantities of available water are essential to maintaining hand hygiene and personal hygiene (5). While these universal prevention measures are well-known, the relative impact of hand hygiene as compared to other infection prevention and control measures such as social distancing, surface disinfection, etc., as a means of slowing COVID-19 transmission has not yet been characterized. However, the availability of water and cleaning products such as soap and chlorine are essential for basic hygiene and infection prevention measures such as hand washing, surface disinfection, and laundry, and should be regarded as universal prerequisites for effective control of the COVID-19 pandemic and other outbreaks (1).

Waterborne transmission has not been documented, and the survival of COVID-19 in water remains unknown (but the virus is thought to persist for hours to days); however, WHO advises that waterborne transmission is unlikely based on available evidence for other similar viruses, and current best practices for safe management of drinking water should be sufficient during the COVID-19 outbreak (1). In addition to direct waterborne transmission, person-to-person transmission may be a concern at communal water sources, where crowding may lead to direct and indirect contact between individuals. Guidelines for practicing appropriate social distancing while accessing communal water sources have not yet been developed, but general social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines may be applicable here as well. The extent to which communal water sources may be hotspots for person-to-person COVID-19 transmission is currently unknown.

Northern Ghana, between 2011 and 2014

Surface disinfection
The persistence of COVID-19 on surfaces and hands under different environmental conditions is being actively studied. Available evidence suggests that the virus can likely persist and remain infectious for up to 3 days on many surfaces (6). Chlorine rapidly inactivates COVID-19 and other viruses on contact. Current recommendations indicate that a dilute chlorine solution (e.g. 0.1% free chlorine, which can be prepared by adding one part household bleach [~5% free chlorine] to 49 parts water- i.e. 20 mL of bleach per liter, 7) or a 70% ethyl alcohol solution can be used for surface disinfection at least once per day (1, 8). However, further validation of best practices for optimal surface disinfection and optimal cleaning frequencies to prevent COVID-19 transmission may be useful to review and/or refine this guidance.

COVID-19 RNA has been detected in the feces of infected individuals (9), but it is not yet known whether infectious virus is also shed in feces. Furthermore, the survival of COVID-19 in feces and wastewater has not yet been characterized. To date, transmission of the virus via feces/wastewater has not been documented, and risk of transmission by this pathway is believed to be relatively low (10). Current WHO recommendations on safe management of human excreta are therefore currently deemed sufficient for preventing fecal-oral transmission of COVID-19. However, where sanitation facilities are shared between known COVID-19 cases and those without symptoms, additional precautions may be warranted- specifically, the facilities should be disinfected at least twice daily by a trained worker wearing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE, 1). Furthermore, adequate plumbing of flush toilets is needed to prevent backflow and/or aerosolization of excreta, which may contribute to COVID-19 transmission by aersosols (1). Where these recommendations are not implemented, the extent to which unsafe management of excreta may contribute to COVID-19 transmission has not yet been quantified. Furthermore, the extent to which sanitation workers may be at risk from transmission of COVID-19 through the feces of infected persons likewise remains unknown. The use of PPE and frequent handwashing should reduce risks to sanitation workers; where latrines that may contain excreta from infected individuals must be emptied, hydrated lime may be added to disinfect the excreta prior to emptying (1).

While available evidence is sufficient to reinforce the need for adequate water, sanitation, hygiene, and cleaning services and methods to prevent COVID-19 transmission in homes, communities, and health care facilities, many important questions still remain unanswered.

  • How is your organization confronting the current COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Are you involved in work to answer any of these WaSH-related questions?
  • What next steps are needed to inform efforts by rural water supply implementers and rural environmental health professionals to combat the current coronavirus pandemic?
  • What additional monitoring activities (if any) are needed for an effective COVID-19 response where you work?

Share your responses by joining the RWSN e-discussion: Responding to the current COVID-19 crisis: questions, resources, and implications for rural water supply at the operational level


1. World Health Organization. (2020). Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19: technical brief, 03 March 2020 (No. WHO/2019-NcOV/IPC_WASH/2020.1). World Health Organization.
2. Perlman, S. (2020). Another decade, another coronavirus.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Interim infection prevention and control recommendations for patients with confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) or persons under investigation for 2019-nCoV in healthcare settings.
4. Siddharta, A., Pfaender, S., Vielle, N. J., Dijkman, R., Friesland, M., Becker, B., … & Brill, F. H. (2017). Virucidal activity of WHO-recommended formulations against enveloped viruses including Zika, Ebola and emerging Coronaviruses. The Journal of infectious diseases.
5. Pickering, A. J., Davis, J., Blum, A. G., Scalmanini, J., Oyier, B., Okoth, G., … & Ram, P. K. (2013). Access to waterless hand sanitizer improves student hand hygiene behavior in primary schools in Nairobi, Kenya. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 89(3), 411-418.
6. van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D. H., Holbrook, M. G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B. N., … & Lloyd-Smith, J. O. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine.
8. Zhang, J., Wang, S., & Xue, Y. (2020). Fecal specimen diagnosis 2019 Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia. Journal of Medical Virology.
9. Kampf, G., Todt, D., Pfaender, S., & Steinmann, E. (2020). Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection.
10. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. Water Transmission and COVID-19 Drinking Water, Recreational Water and Wastewater: What You Need to Know. Website, accessed March 25, 2020.

Cost effective ways to leave no-one behind in rural water and sanitation – Summary on the RWSN E-discussion

The e-discussion on the topic of “Cost effective ways to leave no-one behind in rural water and sanitation” has come to an end and we are very grateful for the 40+ participants who actively took part. A summary of the e-discussion can be found here. Additionaly, we as moderators want to share our own summary of the discussion in this short blog.

Authors: Julia Boulenouar, Louisa Gosling, Guy Hutton, Sandra Fürst, Meleesa Naughton.

As duty bearers for the realisation of human rights to safe drinking water, States have the responsibility to ensure that no-one is left behind. And the SDG framework clearly sets out the need for all stakeholders to work together on the challenge. This e-discussion was an opportunity for diverse members of the Rural Water Supply Network to share lessons and views on how this can be done.

Reminding ourselves of the challenge at stake: since the SDG WASH targets 6.1 and 6.2 were adopted in 2015, the sector has been thinking hard about how to finance the ambitious goal of providing access to safely managed WASH services for everyone, everywhere and forever. This ambition is even more challenging in rural areas, where coverage levels are lower and the unserved include remote communities which are harder to reach and often poorer.

In order to develop a credible financial strategy to achieve this ambition and leverage resources, governments and sector stakeholders need to determine the real costs involved (not only to provide first time access for a few, but sustainable services for all) and the sources of funding that are available and can be mobilised. It needs credible data on those aspects as well as on the population served and unserved, including the most vulnerable groups.

What we already know about the cost of providing WASH services: the costs of providing services rely on many factors and the WASH Cost initiative led by IRC has helped to identify 6 categories beyond capital expenditure to include among others, operation and maintenance, capital maintenance expenditure and direct support. We know that some of these cost categories are largely unknown and as a result, not planned, not budgeted and not financed. This is the case for capital maintenance expenditure and for direct support costs (generally referring to costs for local government to support service providers).

In terms of actual costs, a World Bank study of 2016 showed that $114 billion per year would be needed globally to cover capital costs and roughly the same for operation and maintenance.

What we know less about is the real cost of providing services to all, especially for those left behind (including those marginalised and those discriminated against) and this is because limited data are available. We also recognise that beyond the 6 generic cost categories, many costs are unknown and neglected and these include:

  • the non-financial time costs of WASH access,
  • the cost of taking time to properly understand demand, recognising gender differences and diverse perspectives,
  • the cost of strengthening skills and stakeholder capacity to fulfil their mandate, particularly service authorities and service providers,
  • the cost of corruption,
  • the time and cost of including people with disabilities and others who are socially excluded in services.

These can be seen as cost drivers rather than additional categories, but should be thought through, every time services are planned for.

Who is currently financing this goal and who should do more? Leaving no one behind is the responsibility of national governments. They need to mobilise funding through a combination of sources, including government (taxes), development partners (transfers) and users (tariffs). This is usually known as the “3Ts”. In some contexts, the private sector may have a role to play in investing in water services. However, results from countries that conducted to identify and track WASH financing with the UN-Water tool TrackFin, show that the main contributors for the sector are by far the users who are paying for their own services through capital investment (Self-supply) and through water tariffs (operation and maintenance). In that context, should we consider revising the “3Ts” to “3Ts and S” to acknowledge the importance of Self-supply in the mix of services? And should we also add a 4th T for time to recognise the extent of unpaid labour, especially that of women, on which rural water supply depends? And should we recognise the time used to travel to a place of open defecation or also the waiting time for shared sanitation?

In any case, given the magnitude of the challenge, governments should mobilise additional funding for the WASH sector and coordinate efforts at all levels to ensure cost-effectiveness and efficiency, particularly in resource-constrained environments. Developing WASH plans at sub-national level could be a good way to strengthening governance and coordination, and maximise cost-effectiveness.


What about serving those that cannot afford to pay? Those currently left behind include communities located in rural and remote areas who are often the poorest and currently rely on Self-supply. For those who cannot afford to pay and to address the issue of leaving no-one behind, various areas can be investigated:

  • Defining and measuring users’ affordability
  • Considering low-cost technology options such as Self-supply but only if accompanied by long-term support from local and national government (including through regulation)
  • Making sure the solutions are acceptable and accessible for all – taking into account gender, disability, and cultural preferences

This e-discussion has been useful at clarifying knowns and unknowns related to costing and financing services. Even though the issue of affordability has been touched on, many questions remain unanswered.

We think this discussion should continue and here are a few questions, which we still have in mind, but you might have many more:

  • Who are populations left behind in different contexts (including the marginalised and discriminated against) and how can we define and identify them?
  • What are the ongoing costs of reaching everyone (including the aspects listed above)?
  • If users are those paying the majority of WASH supply costs, how do we deal with those who cannot afford to pay?
  • What mechanisms can be introduced to set tariffs appropriately, whilst also covering the costs of long-term service provision?
  • What are the examples of supported Self-supply that have been successful?
  • What are the specific roles of local government in ensuring no-one is left behind?

Continue the discussion with us and post your answers below or sent your contribution to the RWSN e-discussion group.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Dominic Chavez/World Bank; Alan Piazza / World Bank; Arne Hoel / World Bank; Gerardo Pesantez / World Bank

An Empowering Drop in the Bucket – A women’s journey on International Women’s Day

Author: Sara Ahrari, Programme Manager at Simavi. 

March marks two significant internationally celebrated days for those of us working in the sector. On 8th March we celebrate International Women’s Day #IWD and on 21st March we cherish the World Water Day #WWD. So, it would be good to reflect once again on how exactly WASH is critical to the health and empowerment of women and girls throughout their life.

Let us imagine that you are a girl born to a economically challenged family in a village in the so called developing world where you and your family do not have access to safe water and sanitation.

If you are lucky enough to survive the first 5 years of your life and not die from diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases, the chances are very high that you are already walking a few hours per day to fetch water for your family and you are taking care of your younger siblings.

Then when the time comes for you to go to school, if your family does not have to prioritise your brothers’ education to yours, and if there is a school to attend, you may actually enrol at one. The chances are still very high that you have to walk a good half an hour to fetch water before going to school and answer the call of nature in the open since your school does not have any (functional) toilet. You probably get harassed and experience gender based violence during these visits.Slide6.JPG

Then sometimes when you are between 9 to 12 years old, one day you feel a lot of pain in your lower tummy and suddenly feel that you have wet yourselves. Embarrassed to death, when you finally can find a private corner, you notice the blood in your underwear and think you are going to die. Terrified you tell your older sister or friend and if you can overcome the shame, maybe you tell even your mother, only to learn that although you will not die, you will be going through this pain and embarrassment every month for what seems to be the rest of your life. You will be given a cloth or two, to manage your period. Of course, finding water to wash them and a private place to properly dry them would still be a challenge. You miss school either because you have a lot of pain, which you don’t know how to manage, or you or your family don’t want to risk getting embarrassed because of the blood on your clothes, or simply because there is no toilet or water at school where you can change your cloth or pads! Even in some countries, you might also end up staying in a shed during your period since you will be considered unclean!

Getting your period, is also considered start of your womanhood, and your family might start thinking that it is about time to marry you off, either to reduce the costs or to avoid that you start misbehaving or simply because that’s how it works. Of course you would not get any education about your reproductive system, nor for instance how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. If you are not married off, you will be told to avoid the boys!

By the time that you are 15 years old, the chances are very high that you are pregnant. If you are married and pregnant, you need the permission and money from your husband or his family to go for your check-ups. Mind you, you probably need to bring your own water in a bucket to the health centre, which you have to walk quite a distance to get to. And mind you, when you are pregnant, you need to use the washroom more often, but of course there is no toilet in public places or even health centres. By the way, your family might think that these visits don’t worth the trouble and you are better off with a traditional birth attendant, who usually does not have any hygienic place to do the check-ups nor have water to wash her hands with, even when you are delivering your baby!


And, if you are not married and pregnant, you can forget about going to the health center since the staff will not even talk to you. You probably end up with a traditional birth attendant who wouldn’t mind performing illegal abortion, and again have not washed her hands, when she puts them inside you or uses other terrifying unclean objects to perform an abortion. As you can guess, the chances that you actually survive this one, is very low.

Anyway, throughout your reproductive age, you probably would be pregnant pretty much every year. Of course you would not be able to get the rest or support you need during this time and have to still do most of the unpaid work around the house, without anyone recognising or appreciating it.

You may at some point in life also start doing some paid work to support your family. However, whenever someone at household gets sick or you have your period, you probably have to miss going to work and thereby your income. Talking about income, you are the one who would prioritise investing it in sanitation, whereas for your husband it comes as his 8th or 9th priority, but unfortunately it is often not you who decides what happens with your income, so still no toilet for your family.

When you lose your husband or your father, you probably will not inherit anything from them and all the assets would go to male member of your family. Often if you don’t have sons, or even when you do have them, this means that you need to rely on their mercy for food and shelter.

All these situations can get worse if you are living with any type of disability, or HIV/AIDS, or in places where there is too much or too little water, or if you are from a minority or displaced group.

Yet, generation after generation you have been the source of inspiration and driver of change within your family, community and throughout the world and your resilience and agency has brought the mankind where we are today.


And of course, while WASH programmes alone cannot tackle underlying causes of the barriers women and girls face through their life cycle, by fulfilling women and girls basic needs for access to water and sanitation, they can be the first step in the right direction. On the other hand, WASH programmes when designed and implemented in a gender responsive and transformative way can provide the opportunity to move beyond this and also address women and girls’ strategic needs, such as participation in decision-making processes within their family and communities and thereby contributing to their physical, political, socio-cultural and economic empowerment.

The article is inspired by a panel discussion with Sara Ahrari convened by WaterAid Canada, UNICEF and RESULTS Canada during International Development Week 2019 in Ottawa.


The Top 10 RWSN Blog Posts in 2018

The RWSN Blog provided us again with some exciting posts in 2018. From sustainable water resources and community management, to solar-powered water pumping, to (manual) borehole drilling, and to rural water services – the range of topics offers diverse and insightful perspectives on rural water supply issues.

Here are some of the most popular blogs in 2018:

  1. Sustainable water resources management in Sri Lanka: present situation and way forward
  2. Three common myths about solar-powered water pumping
  3. “The borehole is not a madman” 3 reasons why Community Based Management demands a rethink
  4. Manually Drilled Wells: Providing water in Nigeria’s Megacity of Lagos and beyond
  5. Borehole drilling supervision in Malawi: why it is essential, not optional
  6. For rural Tanzanians, water has a social value too
  7. Tracing a path to sustainable rural water services in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  8. Still barking up the wrong tree? Community management: more problem than solution
  9. Sharing experiences of data flows in water and sanitation – some reflections from AGUASAN Workshop 2018
  10. Achieving Professional and Sustainable Drilling in Madagascar? Yes, we can!

Find more blog posts

Find the newest blog posts here: RWSN Blog

Write your own Blog posts on rural water supply

Feel free to send your text and one or more pictures (if possible) in an e-mail with the subject “RWSN Blog Post” to


Webinar 6 Nov: Data for Sustainable Rural Water Supply

Save the date!! 6th November – Rural Water Supply Network Webinar on Rural water Asset management and how it contributes to increase sustainability of services! Register and you will receive invite with log-in details.

We will hear experiences and lessons from Rwanda by Agenda4Change partners where Asset inventory is used to support local government planning and budgeting processes Malawi by the Climate Justice Fund Water Futures Programme of Strathclyde University – developing asset management for Malawi rural water supply We will discuss data needs and how this is used to inform planning.

Achieving SDG 6: The Need for Local Centres of WASH Expertise and How to Do It

First published on the CAWST blog, reposted with thanks

The goal: ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The task at hand, right now: learn quickly from failure and share lessons learned.

Scaling-up of WASH service coverage will require a focus on both affordable infrastructure and enabling environments. CAWST and the SMART Centre Group are focused on both through capacity development of local providers of WASH products and services. As part of this work, both groups have been following the model of establishing and supporting local centres of WASH expertise. Each centre is unique, housed in an existing in-country organization and provides capacity development services on technical and non-technical WASH solutions and approaches. Between us, we have a combined 22 years of testing this approach. We can unequivocally say that it is a key part of achieving SDG 6, and we have come together to share our key lessons learned:

Lesson 1:  Local WASH centres are worth the long-term investment

  • Long-term follow-up support after training is vital to effective capacity development of an individual, especially in the case of entrepreneurs, who often encounter business challenges.
  • Locally embedded centres can reach people that an external organization cannot: Grounded networks, know-how, and understanding of the context are invaluable and not replicable. Engrained local organisations are a rich source of endogenous best, second best, and worst practices.

CAWST’s Water Expertise and Training (WET) Centre in Afghanistan, housed in the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR), was the first WET Centre to become functionally and financially independent, due to high demand for capacity development in the country and an inability of external organizations to supply much of that demand. From 2011-2015, over 1 million community members benefitted from WASH projects implemented by the centre’s 1,378 clients.

Lesson 2:  Create enough critical mass and identify leaders at various levels

  • The commitment of the centre’s personnel is critical, yet challenging. Especially in the context of informal systems within developing countries where personnel turnover is high, developing the capacity of many to ensure enough critical mass of expertise over time.
  • Look for the entrepreneurial spirits and provide long-term coaching. Sustained business is essential: entrepreneurs need to sell their products and services profitably, so they will continue even if the centre ceases to exist – the concept of profit-based-sustainability.

More than a decade ago, the Southern Highlands Participatory Organisation (SHIPO) started accelerating access to WASH products and services by working relentlessly on capacity development and coaching of the private sector. There are now more than 40 small local companies who have produced over 3,000 wells, 11,000 rope hand pumps, and other SMARTechs throughout the country. SHIPO was the first WASH Centre of expertise within the SMART Centre Group. Key to its success has been its focus on market-based technologies and the promotion of (supported) self-supply (household wells).

Lesson 3:  The host organization must meet certain quality standards

  • The local host organization leadership’s commitment to the vision is critical.
  • Look for champions within the host organization – someone with the passion and network to make change happen, situated within an enabling environment (or with the ability to create an enabling environment). A champion must be able to effect change within institutional or structural limitations.
  • A base level of organizational capacity is necessary to develop technical and training capacity.

CAWST’s WET Centre in Zambia, housed in the Seeds of Hope International Partnerships organization, has adopted the model of training existing networks of community sales agents in WASH topics to increase implementation of a range of healthy home products while earning an income.

Lesson 4:  Flexibility is key

  • All stakeholders must share the willingness and ability to be flexible: A WASH centre needs to have an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit. WASH Centres need to be able to adapt to sector needs and trends.
  • Innovation and capacity development -not only in technology, but also in marketing and other business skills- is essential. A centre needs to pursue various channels to generate income, like selling training and consulting support and implementing projects.

In Tanzania, VETA (The Vocational Education and Training Authority) has included the rope pump in its curriculum based on the cooperation they have with the SHIPO SMART Centre. They are also planning to add manual drilling in the near future.

Lesson 5:  Engage with local networks

  • If the centre is represented and active in relevant networks, it will increase legitimacy and business opportunities. Be innovative in how you integrate the centre into these networks – seek to add value and establish a fundamental niche service.
  • Being part of an international network such as WET Centres and SMART Centres increases knowledge exchange, learning from each other and innovation.
  • Linkages to the formal education sector, vocational training, and employment standards (e.g. job profiles) should be made where possible. To support scale-up and sustainability of impact it is critical to get the knowledge and expertise embedded in national (vocational) training curricula.

Locally embedded knowledge and skills as well as pursuing innovative and affordable approaches such as training local private sector actors are essential to reach water and sanitation related development goals. CAWST and the SMART Centre Group will continue to apply these lessons and spread practice in the sector around establishing local education and training centres.


About the authors

The SMART Centre Group is a network of endogenous WASH training centres in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, with additional centres starting up in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Niger and Nicaragua. SMART stands for Simple, Market-based, Affordable and Repairable Technologies. SMART Centres train technicians in production and maintenance of SMARTechs and coach entrepreneurs in business skills like marketing so that they can deliver WASH products and services to a range of customers.

CAWST is a Canadian charity and licensed engineering firm that acts as a global centre of expertise in WASH capacity development. CAWST addresses the global need for safe drinking water and sanitation by developing local knowledge and skills on simple, affordable solutions that people can implement themselves. To reach more people and to ensure that knowledge and skills are truly retained locally, CAWST partners with existing in-country organizations to create Water Expertise and Training (WET) Centres that deliver CAWST-like capacity development services of their own. Independently of CAWST, the seven WET Centres across 3 continents have provided services to 658 client organizations whose projects have reached 3.7 million people with better water or sanitation.

Photo credit: CAWST (2018)


New Online Course – Professional Management of Water Well Drilling Projects and Programmes


We would like to announce to you that the registration is now open for an online course: Professional Management of Water Well Drilling Projects and Programmes – an Overview that will run from the 5 March to 14 April.

The course provides an overview of what is required to improve borehole drilling professionalism within an organisation and for the country more widely. The course provides participants with an understanding of the following key elements: groundwater information, siting, costing and pricing, procurement and contract management, borehole drilling and supervision and how professional drilling is affected by the wider institutional environment. Click here for more information.

The course builds up to a final assignment whereby participants are tasked with exploring actions that could be taken within their own organisations, local authority and/or country to improve borehole drilling professionalism. Certificates will be awarded to those that successfully complete the course.

The course is open to a maximum of 80 participants from Government, the Private Sector, NGOs, UN-Agencies, Academia and Donor Agencies.

To apply for a place, register here by the 14th February.

The course is designed for both those with a technical (i.e. engineering/science) and those with a non-technical (i.e. social science/economics/arts/politics) background. Participants should have a diploma or bachelor’s degree qualifications and at preferably at least three years of work experience in water supply service delivery (social or technical aspects), civil engineering, rural development or water/environmental management.  As this is an introductory course, participants are not expected to have a detailed understanding of hydrogeology.  The course language is English.

The six week course (5 March to 14 April) is hosted on the UNDP Cap-Net Virtual Campus. It will be facilitated by Skat Foundation, UNICEF, RWSN, AGW-Net and UPGro together with sector experts.