Making the invisible visible in WASH this World Water Day

Local children stand with thumbs up next to their new tap stand built in the village, Kairiru Island, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, 2021.

Thumbs up for this new communal tap stand built in the village, Kairiru Island, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea (WaterAid/ Dion Kombeng)


Today on World Water Day, we are highlighting the importance of groundwater and the role of inclusive and safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in protecting it.


With climate change placing increasing demands and pressures on the world’s clean, freshwater resources, we must look at the whole picture and work together to sustainably manage this precious resource, balancing the needs of people and the planet. 


What’s WASH got to do with it? Water resource management and WASH are interlinked and codependent. Almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater, supporting drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry and ecosystems. So, what we do on the surface matters underground.


'As more people all over the world gain access to a toilet that is not connected to a sewerage system, it is critical to ensure proper containment of human waste to minimise the threat of groundwater contamination. In making the invisible groundwater visible, it is important to also unpeel the layers of invisibility that lead to groundwater contamination – this includes poorly designed, constructed, and operated onsite sanitation facilities,'

explain International Rescue Committee and SNV in their newly released blog: 
Safely managed sanitation to protect our groundwater.


Safely managed water and sanitation services are vital to protecting precious groundwater sources, which can become polluted when infrastructure, such as septic tanks and sewerage systems, are compromised by climate-related events like floods or lack of maintenance, including sufficient emptying or safe containment.


Across the Asia Pacific region, Water for Women partners are progressing universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services, and the complex monitoring that is required to achieve this, as explored in our recently published Monitoring Safely Managed Water and Sanitation Services - Lessons from Water for Women.


Inclusive WASH systems and services also ensure equitable access to and use of groundwater, while WASH delivery offers an important entry point to facilitate positive changes in social norms, attitudes and gender relations to ensure that women and other marginalised groups are given a voice in WASH planning. This is how we are making the invisible visible in communities.


'As a sector, we are learning that to ensure positive and sustainable behavior change in water management and WASH practices, we need to focus on the underlying social norms that drive people’s behaviors. Without this, WASH services are less effective, less resilient and less sustainable.' 

Read 5 tips for WASH practitioners from Sue Cavill and Joanna Mott in our final piece in the Devex #WASHWorks series:  
 Grounding 'positive' norms for clean water. 


Water for Women is changing mindsets in a changing climate. Through a focus on gender and social inclusion, our programs are ensuring that WASH services and systems are accessible, effective for everyone, more climate-resilient and sustainable. This is central to achieving the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.


So far, 2.6 million people have benefitted from greater access to inclusive WASH services through Water for Women


Today, we are highlighting how what our partners are doing on the surface matters underground, and how we are changing mindsets in a changing climate.

A group of woman sit inside around a table with paper and pictures as they map how climate change hazards affect their community and women in particular.


Indonesian women bolster lessons in climate resilience

The women pictured here are working together on a systems mapping activity to assess how climate change hazards may affect gender equality and social inclusion in water and sanitation services in Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia. (Tamara Megaw, UTS-ISF)

This Water for Women study, run by the University of Technology Sydney - Institute for Sustainable Futures in collaboration with Plan International Australia and Yayasan Plan International Indonesia, revealed that water shortages due to longer dry seasons had led to problems with flush toilets, forcing community members to return to open defecation and placing vital water and food sources at risk of faecal contamination. 


Read more




A rural villager in Fiji checking a dam.

Strong water committees equals strong WASH communities in Fiji and Solomon Islands

It’s a thumbs up for this dam in rural Fiji, where community-based water management is being strengthened through a socially inclusive and capacity building approach as part of the country's Drinking Water Safety and Security Planning (DWSSP).

Water for Women’s Pacific Community Water Management Plus project (PaCWaM+), the International WaterCentre (IWC) partnered with the University of the South Pacific (USP) and Solomon Islands National University (SINU) to develop the Strong Water Committees – Strong WASH Communities Implementation Guide for community workshops in rural Fiji.

Read more

Shah Bano is using the newly installed piped water system to fill the tank in her village in Pakistan


From nightly walks to fetch water to solar-powered piped water to her home

Until a few months ago, every night before going to bed, Shah Bano would walk a distance to fetch water from an unprotected spring, carrying a jar made from baked clay...

International Rescue Committee is finding innovative and sustainable ways to bring accessible water supply to communities, like Village Landi Akhon Ahmad in Peshawar District, where 300 households are now able to access safe drinking water from a solar powered supply scheme!

Read more


Solomon Islands

Community facilitators test water quality during CWSIP facilitation in Solomon Islands

Socially inclusive water committees are taking care of community water needs in Solomon Islands

A socially inclusive approach to community-based water management is driving improvements in water access and water security for communities in Solomon Islands and helping to protect vital groundwater sources.

Plan International Australia and the International WaterCentre, Live and Learn Environmental Education and Solomon Islands National University (SINU) have been partnering through the Community-based Water Security Improvement Planning (CWSIP) process and have seen increased participation of women, young and marginalised people in local water management, and this diversity is paying off for their communities.

Read more

Recent resources

Water for Women case study report cover

Monitoring Safely Managed Water and Sanitation Services - Lessons from Water for Women

The Water for Women case studies present a range of contexts, approaches and experiences on monitoring safely managed water and sanitation services in urban and rural areas across the Asia-Pacific region, including Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea.

The methods and processes for defining indicators and adoption of SDG targets by local and national governments are outlined, in addition to activities to support the implementation of monitoring and reflections on considerations and challenges of monitoring safely managed services in these contexts.


Water for Women cover of learning resource synthesis

Monitoring Safely Managed Water and Sanitation Services - Lessons from Water for Women 

The Synthesis of Case Studies brings together the practical experiences and lessons from Water for Women partners in monitoring safely managed water and sanitation services in a variety of Asia-Pacific country contexts.

Safely Managed resource webinar invite

WASH & Learn
30th March @ 3pm

Join Water for Women partners for this WASH & Learn webinar as we explore the methods and challenges to monitoring safely managed water and sanitation services in the Asia Pacific region.

Register now

Cover of the research journal Water Research

Faecal contamination of groundwater self-supply in low- and middle income countries: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Franziska Genter, Juliet Willetts, Tim Foster
University of Technology Sydney - Institute for Sustainable Futures 


  • Systematic review finds groundwater self-supply in low- and middle-income countries is commonly contaminated.
  • Meta-analysis shows self-supply more likely to be contaminated when unimproved.
  • Risk of contamination higher in low-income countries than middle-income countries.
  • Self-supply more likely to be contaminated than piped supply.
Chimy (F) & Mansinghrai & Dawa Tshering working together to build a new toilet in a rural village in Bhutan.

The quest for safely managed sanitation for all in Bhutan

Australia proudly supports the Government of Bhutan's vision for all its citizens to have access to improved sanitation facilities by 2022.

Since commencing in 2018, SNV's Beyond the Finish Line project has supported a more than 20 percent increase in safely managed sanitation services in seven of the eight districts under the program, where there is also no major difference in toilet ownership and sanitation standards for male and female-headed households, and the quality of facilities better in households with people with disabilities with 94 percent of these now using a safely managed sanitation facility. 

Read more

Local child drinking water from a new tap stands built in the village, Kairiru Island, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, 2021.

Papua New Guinea

Inclusive WASH and climate adaptation in Wewak, Papua New Guinea

Through their Innovation and Impact project, WaterAid and Hydrology and Risk Consulting (HARC) are expanding their engagement in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, to develop and apply an Inclusive WASH and Climate Adaptation Framework. This project is contributing to the evidence-base on climate adaptation and resilient WASH programming by developing a practical framework that defines categories of inclusive WASH responses that build climate resilience.

Read more



Blue and orange graphic promoting the GESI self-assessment tool webinar

Unpacking inequalities in rural access to Nepal’s safely managed water services

This group is inspecting a water scheme structure in the rural municipality of Dungeshwor in Dailekh, Nepal. They know that what happens on the surface matters underground. Through these kinds of inspections, the functionality and water quality vulnerability of the structures is assessed.

Read more from the SNV and UTS-ISF Learning Brief

Unpacking inequalities in rural access to Nepal’s safely managed water services


Two young children pumping water into a bucket from the community water point on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu

Strengthening drinking water safety and security in Vanuatu: lessons from Fiji and Solomon Islands

In partnership with The University of the South Pacific and the Vanuatu Department of Water Resources (DoWR), Water for Women partner the International WaterCentre at Griffith University, is sharing lessons learnt and tools developed in Fiji and Solomon Islands through the Pacific Island Community Water Management Plus (PaCWaM+) project with communities in Vanuatu.

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