Access to Clean Water Is A Human Right

“I’ll never forget the exact moment when water started flowing through the pump and the Hale-Ale community members and their livestock started running toward the new water source. The look on their faces said it all – such gratitude, excitement, and hope in their eyes.”

– Larry Bentley, Engineers Without Borders USA (PCI partner)

Access to Clean Water Is A Human Right

“I’ll never forget the exact moment when water started flowing through the pump and the Hale-Ale community members and their livestock started running toward the new water source. The look on their faces said it all – such gratitude, excitement, and hope in their eyes.”

– Larry Bentley, Engineers Without Borders USA (PCI partner)


Access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene can transform lives. Yet, 785 million people around the world lack a safe drinking-water source. Another two billion people use drinking water sources contaminated with feces and don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. Considering estimates that half the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025, this issue is of greater importance than ever before.

Contaminated water can transmit diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio and is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrheal deaths each year. Inadequate sanitation is also linked to the transmission of these diseases, along with hepatitis A, and causes over 400,000 diarrheal deaths each year. It is also a major factor in malnutrition and several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma.

A lack of access to clean water negatively impacts human well-being along with social and economic development. Improving sanitation, hygiene practices, and access to clean water in developing countries can boost countries’ economic growth, reduce poverty, promote better health, and improve school attendance. When water comes from safe, accessible sources, people spend less time and effort physically collecting it, meaning they can be productive in other ways. This also results in greater personal safety by reducing the need to make long or risky journeys to collect water, a task that usually falls on women and female children.

Providing Access To Clean Water Worldwide

Because of the fundamental importance of these issues, PCI integrates water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions within all our programming worldwide. Through improved infrastructure, behavior change support, and community mobilization, we work diligently to increase access to and consumption of safe drinking water, expand access to and use of clean sanitation facilities, eliminate the practice of open defecation, as well as promote better household hygiene and safe cooking practices.

clean water

Promoting Safe Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Schools

PCI is using its school feeding programs as an opportunity to improve access to clean water and sanitation and promote healthy hygiene practices—not just in schools but in surrounding communities as well. By organizing community handwashing campaigns and training teachers on safe hygiene practices, students and parents are adopting simple practices, such as hand washing with soap and proper use of latrines, that promote better health. PCI is also partnering with communities to develop sustainable water systems by digging wells, building latrines, and constructing safe water and sewage systems.

PCI’s Food for Education programs in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Tanzania are designed to follow the Ministries of Education and Ministries of Health regulations and guidelines for primary schools. This means schools must have accessible toilets and sinks for each gender, as well as access to clean drinking water and adequate solid waste management.

In the Mara region of Tanzania, PCI works with schools to improve irrigation systems for school gardens and demonstration plots, which in turn helps improve children’s diets and family income. PCI/Tanzania also participates in joint meetings with district engineers and education leaders to determine regional priorities for safe water systems at primary schools including latrines, handwashing stations, wells, boreholes, and rainwater harvesting tanks.

In Guatemala, PCI helps construct innovative systems, such as rainwater collection tanks, to improve the availability of water for handwashing in schools. PCI designs these systems in collaboration with municipal governments, Guatemala’s Ministry of Education, community members, and other stakeholders in order to garner support for the construction process.

Members of the school’s parent organizations are trained on infrastructure maintenance and use of the systems, which they become responsible for maintaining. PCI also works with community leaders and municipal authorities to build a shared responsibility for ensuring access to water in schools. Both of these efforts strengthen sustainability beyond the life of the project.

PCI also developed and uses “Cleanliness Stoplight” in Guatemala—a system that encourages cleanliness awareness in various areas of the school (e.g. classrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, schoolyard). The spotlight is used as a monitoring and accountability tool for school administrators, teachers, and students to ensure clean and healthy learning environments.

Supporting Adolescent Girls at School 

When schools struggle with inadequate or non-existent sanitation facilities, young adolescent school girls are the most vulnerable. Poor facility maintenance and improper use of latrines particularly affects menstrual hygiene management and these issues remain a source of embarrassment and shame for adolescent girls.

When on their periods, some girls must skip school because they don’t have access to running water, sanitary products, or infrastructure, such as private changing rooms, all of which negatively affect their academic experience. Additionally, these girls often don’t receive sufficient information from school teachers or caretakers at home. In fact, some social environments often prohibit young adolescent girls from having peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher discussions about puberty and menstruation.

To address these issues, PCI constructs, modifies, and improves latrines with girls’ changing rooms, which ensures girls have access to sanitary products and privacy at school during their periods. Items kept in the changing rooms include sanitary pads, napkins, clean cloth, soap, water, and skirts. PCI also promotes good menstrual hygiene practices, such as proper handwashing, body-washing, and disposal of menstrual products.

PCI is also reaching adolescents with health, nutrition, and life skills education and support through health clubs, a common school-based platform. During health club meetings, both male and female students learn about puberty and menstrual hygiene management. These clubs help de-stigmatize and normalize changes that happen to the body during adolescence, which creates an empathetic and supportive school environment.

filling up water

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Promoting Safe Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Malawi

For five years, 2014-2019, PCI led the USAID-funded Njira project in Malawi and facilitated water, sanitation, and hygiene social and behavior change.

PCI created mother-to-mother Care Groups, each comprised of 10-15 lead mothers. Lead mother were trained by PCI staff and government community health workers on a range of topics including water treatment and storage, proper handwashing techniques, hygienic food preparation and consumption, latrine utilization, and environmental sanitation. Then, each lead mother was responsible for providing behavior change support and education to 10 neighboring households.

PCI also formed 100 Father Groups, each comprised of around 10 male caregivers, who received similar training and developed action plans for how they can contribute to positive sanitation, and hygiene behavior change in their households and communities.

PCI also rolled out a mobilization strategy called community-led total sanitation to make communities open defecation free. By engaging the entire community, PCI increased community awareness and commitment, provided access to basic sanitation structures, and, together, established a set of community by-laws.

Lastly, PCI helped communities create committees that were responsible for community-based management of the water points, including making borehole repairs and increasing access to water points. By 2019, 98 percent of community water points were functional. Part of these efforts included training artisans/masons in the production and marketing of dome slabs and sanitation platforms.

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