LMI: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Enterprise Development

JULY 2011


According to World Health Organization calculations, some 1.5 million children die each year across the world from diarrheal disease and 94 percent of the cases are due to unclean water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene. But the detrimental effects of these problems are by no means limited to children: they have severe and long-lasting effects on individual health and development, which taken as a whole put great stress on many developing nations. For example, illness from poor sanitation has been estimated to cost Cambodia and Vietnam over $1 billion in lost Gross Domestic Product every year due to missed workdays.

Since its creation in 1961, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been at the forefront of international efforts to improve the health and well-being of people throughout the developing world. It was USAID, for example, that pioneered the widespread use of oral rehydration salts that has saved so many lives from diarrheal disease. As the largest provider of bilateral health assistance in the world, USAID continues to provide scientific and technical leadership across a wide array of health and medical programs, including major programs to fight HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, and other emerging infectious diseases.

Yet despite the medical and scientific advances of the past 50 years, it is important to recall that the basic necessities of clean water, proper sanitation, and good hygiene still make the difference between sickness and health -- even life and death -- for millions of people. This knowledge is what informs the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Enterprise Development (WaterSHED) program.


Participating Countries: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam

WaterSHED focuses on three countries in the Lower Mekong Basin. It is a public-private partnership (e.g., a collaboration between government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations), led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A $17 million, five-year program, WaterSHED is designed to bring effective, affordable water and sanitation products to the marketplace and ultimately to low income households and individuals. It works through private companies to encourage the purchase and use of a wide range of low cost water and sanitation products, such as latrines, toilets, and the ceramic water purifier shown above.

WaterSHED concentrates on five key areas:

  • Promoting consumer demand for better water, sanitation, and hygiene products and services;
  • Assessing commercial viability of water and sanitation products and testing their quality;
  • Introducing effective and affordable water, sanitation, and hygiene products and services through local enterprises;
  • Working with microfinance organizations to offer financing options for the poor to buy the products, and for the enterprises (e.g. manufacturers, suppliers) to be able to bring the products to market; and
  • Working with private sector and regional partners to replicate successes across the region.
WaterSHED works primarily with rural populations, where many lack the most basic services. For example, only 18% of the people in Cambodia and 38% of the people in Laos have functioning latrines. The program works primarily with the private sector to address these conditions, acting as a business incubator, helping local producers and suppliers develop marketing, sales and distribution plans. Together they look at WASH products that have market potential and test them for function and feasibility while conducting market surveys to understand consumer behavior, and then help find companies that can sell and distribute them.
As much of the rural population in the three LMI countries is quite poor, it is necessary to contain costs at each step of this process, from production, to marketing, to distribution. At the same time, they collaborate with designers to make their products more attractive to local tastes. Finally, WaterSHED works with local microfinance organizations to make it easier to purchase WASH products.
WaterSHED has recently begun focusing on something even more basic – hand washing -- as the World Health Organization estimates that diarrheal disease can be reduced by 30% if people wash their hands at least five times a day at critical moments such as when preparing food or just prior to eating. Accordingly, the program has engaged in a design of a commercial hand-washing unit which will be used to stimulate the culture of washing hands among the rural people.
Another benefit of the WaterSHED program is environmental. For example, two-thirds of the people in the region boil their drinking water. Using low-cost, locally produced water filters will eliminate this need and thus reduce carbon emissions from burning firewood – as well as the time spent, often by women and children, collecting firewood.


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), East Meets West Foundation, International Development Enterprises, Hydrologic, Lien Aid, TerraClear

Last updated: June 03, 2013

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