Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to page options Skip directly to site content

Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (GWASH)

This information is provided by the National Center for Environmental Health’s Environmental Health Services Branch for informational and historical purposes. The GWASH function is now in another CDC organizational unit. This information is not maintained and may no longer be current and/or accurate.


Safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene are the three most important conditions for keeping communities healthy. They contribute to the prevention and control of disease, injury, and disability. Thus to reduce the global impact of disease, we need to understand how certain underlying causes lead to disease. Many such underlying causes are often closely linked to water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions. According to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, 2.6 billion persons live without access to improved sanitation, such as a latrine, and nearly 900 million persons lack sources of safe drinking water (1). Effective disease prevention strategies depend on addressing problems related to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Water, sanitation, and hygiene programs align naturally with many of CDC’s Global Health Protection Goals, including

  • Prevention and control of infectious diseases and their global consequences;
  • Prevention of global infant and child morbidity and mortality; and
  • Support of international and national goals for the acceleration of disease control, and the eventual eradication of certain diseases altogether.


CDC’s Environmental Health Services Branch includes a Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene team that works on

  • Evaluating the sustainability of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions;
  • Improving access to safe drinking water through the implementation of Water Safety Plans (WSPs); and
  • Researching the public health impacts of sanitation programs.

Working with partner organizations, the team performs applied research to evaluate and improve the public health impact and sustainability of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions and provides technical assistance to support the development and implementation of such interventions. In the work of the Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene team, three cross-cutting principles are inherent:

  • Science base: use available public health evidence and science (including social science); and where research and data are insufficient or nonexistent, use applied research to help expand the knowledge base.
  • Partnerships: develop solid partnerships and build capacity in partner organizations to conduct water, sanitation, and hygiene projects independently.
  • Share findings: distribute results through such means as workshops, conferences, reports, and publishing in appropriate peer-reviewed journals.

Regional Focus

CDC’s Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene team focuses on communities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), where CDC has experience and strong partnerships. According to the Joint Monitoring Program of the World Health Organization and UNICEF, in 2008 approximately 38 million persons in LAC had no access to an improved drinking water source, and 117 million lacked sanitation services (2).

In 2008, 1 in 5 persons (20%) of the rural population did not use an improved drinking water source and 45% of the rural population did not use improved sanitation facilities, demonstrating a potentially receptive audience for improved water and sanitation. Further highlighting the need, 20% of the entire LAC population (urban and rural) did not use any type of improved sanitation facility in 2008 (2).


  1. United Nations. The Millennium Development Goals report 2010. New York, United Nations; 2010.
  2. World Health Organization and UNICEF. Progress on sanitation and drinking-water: 2010 update. Geneva: World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund; 2010.