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. Globally, 663 million people live without easy access to clean water and 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities. (UNICEF). Many of these people have to walk long distances to and from their homes to access clean water, which can impact girls’ education and increase women’s time burden, as women are the primary collectors of water. It is estimated that 3.36 million children (the majority of whom are girls) and 13.54 million adult females were responsible for water collection in households with collection times greater than 30 minutes. Read more here.

The water they work so hard to collect is often contaminated and without the knowledge and skills for proper water purification and storage, can lead to their families getting sick with waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.

PCI understands the importance of clean water and has spent years integrating water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions within its programs across countries. Most of our WASH work focuses on access to clean water and sanitation facilities, behavior change communication around proper WASH practices, and advocacy for improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities.

Promoting Hygiene and Sanitation in Schools

PCI’s USDA-funded Food for Education (FFE) programs turn school meals into an opportunity to promote sanitation and hygiene in schools and surrounding communities. PCI is achieving real and lasting behavior change in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Tanzania by ensuring access to clean water in participating schools. We’re also educating teachers, students, and parents on how simple practices such as hand washing with soap at the 5 critical times and proper use of latrines can keep individuals and families healthy. Other actions include partnering with communities to develop sustainable water systems by:

  • Digging wells;
  • Building latrines; and
  • Constructing safe water and sewage systems.

Under PCI’s FFE program in the Mara region of Tanzania, PCI works with schools and districts on access to water for school gardens and demonstration plots and will be piloting solar powered irrigation systems. PCI/Tanzania also carries out joint meetings with district engineers and education leaders to determine regional priorities for safe water systems at primary schools to include latrines, handwashing stations, wells, boreholes, and rain water harvesting structures.

Additionally, PCI is investing in a region-wide handwashing behavior change communication campaign using local cultural groups, radio, print and social media.

clean water

Water Advocacy 

With over a decade of experience implementing water and sanitation programs throughout Nicaragua, PCI has become an expert in the development of sustainable, community-managed water and sanitation systems. PCI is also a leading clean water advocate and is an active member of Nicaragua’s RASNIC (Water and Sanitation Network of Nicaragua) network, which promotes access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Training Mothers and Fathers on Hygiene 

Access to improved drinking water sources presents a challenge to both urban and rural communities. The reasons vary from region to region, but the most common barriers to access include climate change, increasing water scarcity, population growth, demographic changes, urbanization, and poor infrastructure. Additionally, 946 million people (13% of the world’s population) remain with no access to toilets, latrines, or any form of sanitation facility, and therefore practice open defecation, resulting in high exposure to the risks of disease — 849 million of them live in rural areas. Sanitation challenges stem from lack of education, poverty, poor infrastructure, and urbanization. 

Our USAID-funded Njira project in Malawi provides water, sanitation, and hygiene education and training using a mother-to-mother behavior change strategy called the Care Group approach. PCI has been implementing Care Groups in a range of countries for nearly a decade. In Malawi, Lead Mothers have been chosen by their communities and mobilized into 411 Care Groups each comprised of 10-15 Lead Mother participants. Lead Mothers are then 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. Each lead mother is then responsible for educating and providing behavior change support to 10 neighbor households, hence allowing PCI to reach more than 70,000 families with water, sanitation, and hygiene behavior change. Alongside the Care Groups, PCI has formed 100 Father Groups, each comprised of around 10 male caregivers, who receive similar training and develop action plans for how they can more effectively bring about positive behavior change for improved health, nutrition, and hygiene in their households and communities.

filling up water

Working with Starbucks to Increase Coffee Farmer Access to Clean Water and Sanitation

PCI began partnering with Starbucks in 2008 after receiving funding from the Starbucks Foundation Ethos Water Fund. PCI implemented a three-year water and sanitation project in Tanzania which provided access to clean water to 33,000 people living in the rural Manyara Region. Primary actions included constructing and rehabilitating 129 water points, forming community-led water user groups, and improving water and sanitation practices.

We used a second Starbucks Foundation grant in 2012 to implement WASH programming for rural coffee farming communities in Ethiopia. PCI’s Sidama Coffee Farmers Project increased access to safe drinking water for 10,500 people and provided sanitation facilities to another 1,452.

Empowering communities to lift themselves out of poverty relies on taking a dynamic approach to development. Instead of using the grant to focus only on water, PCI partnered with the community to address other issues and build their capacity to sustainably improve their region. This involved assisting the Sidama Farmers Cooperative Union to engage in action planning to improve resource management. As a result:

  • Nearly 2,100 women coffee farmers were organized into 108 Women Empowered groups.
  • To date, these groups have collectively saved $23,423 and started over 1,642 small businesses.

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Water and Disaster Relief

Access to clean water is crucial when faced with natural disasters. Whether in the aftermath of a sudden earthquake or to mitigate a drought, PCI understands that increasing access to cost-effective and sustainable water and sanitation services is essential to helping communities prevent the spread of disease.

In the years since the devastating earthquake that rattled Haiti in 2010, PCI has installed latrines, bathing facilities, and handwashing stations to improve basic hygiene and sanitation conditions. PCI reached more than 70,600 people in urban Port-au-Prince with WASH education and training on evidence-based prevention strategies that were particularly critical for mitigating the cholera outbreak.

Worsening and increasing droughts in countries like Ethiopia and Malawi means that vulnerable families are at greater risk of becoming food insecure and more susceptible to dehydration and waterborne disease. Ethiopia’s drought is a result of two successive failed rainy seasons and has produced the worst food crisis in the country in 30 years. With no crops or rangeland to feed either themselves or their cattle, as many as 18 million people are at risk of hunger and disease.

In response, PCI integrated WASH programming into its Ethiopia Emergency Drought Response and Rehabilitation (ENDURE) Project to repair existing water infrastructure and prevent disease. PCI partnered with Engineers Without Borders, who made repairs to water points that brought water back to hundreds of families and trained community members on maintenance.

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