Today, 2.4 billion people lack access to a latrine, and a billion defecate in the open. Most of the sickness and death associated with inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene is a result of fecal-oral disease transmission, making management of human feces a lynchpin of this development challenge. Increasing urbanization concentrates people and wastes into smaller areas, increasing potential exposure to harmful pathogens while limiting simple technical options. Successful sanitation for the low-income majority is rare, and many fundamental technical and policy questions remain unanswered.

In crowded and poor communities, the effectiveness of shared sanitation is unknown. In high-income countries, aging combined sewage systems in urban areas and failing septic systems present health challenges of their own. In different economic, geographic, and cultural contexts, technologies have differing impacts on the threat from human excreta. Community-based sanitation promotion techniques are widely used, but their factors behind their success or failure is not well understood. We must understand and document the best practical steps to reduce public health hazards, with a careful eye toward how the views of national and local stakeholders can be leveraged to motivate action.

With interdisciplinary perspectives and experience including engineering, epidemiology, public health policy, economics, microbiology, and social science, The Water Institute frames and addresses these and other key questions without losing sight of the field reality of urban and rural settings in a wide range of countries.


Examples of projects include: