WASH and Conservation

WASH Advocates closed in December 2015.  The information on this page was last updated at that time and may not be the most up-to-date. 

Water, sanitation, and hygiene projects are a fundamental cornerstone of human development. Access to water translates into increased economic productivity and healthier communities. Well-planned sanitation infrastructure minimizes the risk of acquiring water-borne diseases, resulting in a healthier and more vibrant community and healthy ecosystems.

How does WASH intersect with conservation?

There are currently institutional and operational barriers that divide WASH and conservation professionals. This causes each side to view the other with suspicion and prevents an effective exploration of mutually supportive solutions. There is a growing need for both sides to identify common objectives and to participate in cooperative efforts to integrate programs for WASH services with those for conservation and environmental protection.

To that end, on December 11, 2013, the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG)  launched “Freshwater Conservation and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Integration Guidelines: A Framework for Implementation in sub-Saharan Africa.

This set of guidelines aims to provide guidance to health, development, and conservation professionals in sub-Saharan Africa on how to plan, coordinate develop and achieve mutually supported WASH and freshwater conservation projects outcomes. The report’s principal authors are Janet Edmond and Colleen Sorto (Conservation International), Sarah Davidson (The Nature Conservancy), John Sauer (Water for People), Dennis Warner (Millennium Water Alliance), Marc Dettman (Global Environment & Technology Foundation), and Jennifer Platt (formerly of WASH Advocates) and includes contributions from professionals working across the health, development and conservation sectors.

During the development of the guidelines, monitoring and evaluation, indicators, and measuring results were frequently noted as lacking research and guidance and as major barriers to implementation of integrated programs. In July 2014, ABCG members led a workshop in Kenya to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework and indicators to support projects that integrate WASH and freshwater conservation efforts.

WASH and Conservation: Successful Case Studies From the Field

Catholic Relief Services: The Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) model that CRS uses has succeeded in developing a potable water system, protecting critical watershed areas, and working with local, regional, and national actors to establish a water management committee and enforce environmental regulations in Central America.
WASH and Conservation: Is it possible?

African Wildlife Foundation: African Wildlife Foundation takes examples from Kenya’s Amboseli Ecosystem where they have implemented WASH programs to address water catchment, conservation, and access due to climate change, human use, and other factors.

Payment for Ecosystem Services

Winrock International: Winrock International presents a case study from Mvomero, in the Uluguru range of Tanzania’s Eastern Arc mountains, where the Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) approach is improving people’s health and livelihoods and enhancing environmental stewardship in a biodiversity hotspot.

Multiple-Use Water Services: WASH, Livelihoods and Conservation—Case of Pemba, Tanzania


WASH and Conservation: The Challenge

WASH directly impacts environmental conditions. Lack of or poorly planned WASH projects, which incorrectly collect and dispose of human excreta, wastewater, solid waste and sludge, can negatively impact communities and ecosystems downstream. The poor and most vulnerable populations are the most likely to be affected by water-related climate change impacts such as more severe and frequent droughts and floods.[1] Lack of water and sanitation in emergency situations, such as floods and droughts, leads to increases in diarrheal disease and other health problems.[2]

Untreated Human Waste

Untreated human waste has detrimental effects on both the environment and economy. The most significant sources of water pollution are lack of treatment of human wastes and inadequately managed and treated industrial and agricultural wastes.[3] Ninety percent of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers in the developing world[4] and the number of “dead zones” – deoxygenated zones that harm marine life and can be caused by untreated waste – in the world’s seas and oceans may now be as high as 200.[5] 


Improvements in WASH can provide sustainable solutions to environmental conservation and climate change issues around the world. Integrated Population, Health and Environment (PHE) approaches acknowledge the critical links between human health and freshwater ecosystem services, that support human societies. 

Ecological sanitation is a closed loop system that emphasizes conservation of water and protection of aquatic ecosystems in addition to health. This approach utilizes less potable water, reuses wastewater for irrigation, and safely recycles human waste as fertilizer preventing contamination of ground and surface waters.[6] Ecological sanitation provides the same degree of health protection as more sophisticated and costly water borne sanitation systems (flush toilets).[7] Solid waste gives off methane and other gasses while decomposing. This biogas can be captured and reused to provide energy for cooking or lighting a home.

[1] UN Water, 2010. Climate Change Adaptation: The Pivotal Role of Water. http://www.unwater.org/downloads/unw_ccpol_web.pdf.

[2] Singh, RB, et al. The influence of climate variation and change on diarrheal disease in the Pacific Islands. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2001; 109(2):155-59. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240636/.

[3] UN-Water, International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015. http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/quality.shtml.

[4] UN Water, 2002. Water: A Matter of Life and Death. http://www.un.org/events/water/factsheet.pdf.

[5] UNEP, 2006. Further Rise in Number of Marine ‘Dead Zones.’ http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=486&ArticleID=5393&l=en.

[6] UNESCO/IHP & GTZ, 2006. Capacity building for ecological sanitation. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001463/146337e.pdf.

[7] Hebert, P., 2010.Rapid Assessment of CRS Experience with Arborloos in East Africa. http://www.crsprogramquality.org/publications/2010/6/21/rapid-assessment-of-crs-experience-with-arborloos-in-east-af.html.

WASH Advocates closed in December 2015. The information on this page was last updated at that time and may not be the most up-to-date.

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