Mission: To help the world's poorest people implement and sustain community-managed projects that integrate clean water, toilets, and hygiene education.
About the Organization: Two and a half billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water and a simple toilet. Some five million people, mostly children under the age of 5, die from water-related illnesses each year. Diarrhea is the leading cause of child death in countries with high child-mortality rates, and over 90 percent of diarrheal death is caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene. Children weakened by frequent diarrheal illnesses are malnourished and vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia, leaving them physically and mentally underdeveloped. Every day, 200 million women and girls carry every drop of water their families use. In addition to chronic back pain and skin sores, the burden of hauling heavy containers of water leaves women with little or no time to earn an income.
Started in 2005 by a group of professionals with experience in the water and sanitation sectors, Water1st International works through locally-based partner organizations to support the implementation of projects that include the provision of drinking water, hygiene education, and sanitary latrines. Water1st projects involve simple, proven technologies that source spare parts locally, and community members provide the manual labor for project construction. Communities also make a financial commitment to the project, paying all operation and maintenance costs of the system. Once a project is completed, local households pay an affordable monthly water bill, and those funds are then made available for the purchase of materials and parts needed to maintain the system. Community members also commit to learning about ways in which they can change their behavior to use the new system and be healthier.
Since 2005, the organization has raised $24 million for 3,286 projects, providing 237,000 people in five countries with clean water.
Current Programs: Water1st currently provides consistent funding to four country programs — Bangladesh (where 15 percent of the country's 165 million people live on less than $1.90 a day), Ethiopia (where approximately 90 percent of people lack access to clean water and only 7 percent have hygienic toilets), Honduras (where 16 percent of the country's 10 million people live on less than $1.90 a day), and Mozambique (where 80 percent of the population lacks access to water and toilets). Three of the programs serve rural communities; in Bangladesh, projects serve the urban poor.
Communities selected for a Water1st project independently own and operate their projects and receive extensive training to build, operate, and maintain them in perpetuity. Each local office employs water, sanitation, and public health professionals who know how to identify, design, and build appropriate technologies, and women serve in key leadership roles with respect to the governance and maintenance of their water and sanitation systems. Because women are traditionally responsible for water collection, they receive the greatest direct benefit from a project.
All Water1st projects integrate piped water, toilets, and hygiene education, which together stop the spread of disease and save lives.
COVID-19 Response: As the coronavirus spreads, the organization is working to make sure it can continue to support its programs around the world, enabling more communities to have access to their number-one defense against the spread of infectious disease: clean water for hand-washing. In Bangladesh, the organization's local partner, DSK, is focusing its efforts in five slum areas in the country's three most populated cities: Dhaka (Tarabo, Savar, and Keranigonj), Chattogram (Bakulia), and Khulna (Sonadanga). For people without access to water, DSK will provide support for the construction of new water systems, giving people piped water access for hand-washing in their homes, schools, and workplaces. In Ethiopa, the organization's local partner, Water Action, is working to connect two hundred families to piped water networks in the rural Oromo communities of Ilamu Muja, Kelecho Gerbi, and Gonbisa Kussaye, enabling those households to have access to clean water in their homes. And in Honduras, Water1st partner COCEPRADIL has identified six communities in five municipalities (475 households in total) with an urgent need for water supply systems. COCEPRADIL will provide support for the construction of these systems, giving people piped water access for drinking, hand-washing, and other critical hygienic activities in their homes, schools, clinics, and community centers. COCEPRADIL also is developing communication tools specifically tailored to the challenge of preventing COVID-19 from spreading, with a focus on educating local residents about transmission pathways and hygiene practices they can use to protect themselves.
Website: The Water1st website provides an overview of the global water/sanitation crisis, stories from the field, a video gallery, information about its youth programs, travel opportunities for volunteers, and how to partner with or support the organization.
Funding: Water1st International is supported by individual donors, foundation grants, corporations, and civic, religious, and educational organizations.