CAWST | 2020 Canadian SDG Accelerators Awards Profile

CAWST – Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology

Industry: Water, sanitation and hygiene


Category: Non-business

Applicable SDG: SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Applicable Targets:

  • Target 6.1. By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
  • Target 6.2. By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
  • Target 6.a. By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- andsanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
  • Target 6.b. Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

Please explain why the selected SDG is a priority for your company

Since CAWST’s inception in 2001, we have worked towards safely managed drinking water and sanitation for all. Our vision is a world where everyone has the opportunity to succeed because their basic water and sanitation needs are being met. We achieve this by strengthening knowledge and skills in low- and middle-income countries to catalyze the adoption of affordable technologies for homes, schools, and clinics. Safe water for all is our purpose. 

Water is a fundamental human need. Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are essential for health, education, earning a living, and household resilience. Addressing this need is critical to ending poverty. Water underpins many of the UN’s SDGs, especially: SDG 1: No poverty, SDG 2: Zero hunger, SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being, SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 5: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 10: Reduced Inequality, and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. 

When people are without safe water and sanitation, the health impacts are staggering. According to the United Nations, unsafe water kills more people than all forms of violence, including war. Each year, 297,000 children under the age of five die from diarrheal diseases (WHO, 2019). Achieving access to safe water and sanitation holds great promise. Access to safely managed water and sanitation, as well as adequate water resources management, boost countries’ economic growth and contribute to poverty eradication. Water and sanitation can reverse gender inequality, enabling women and girls to engage more fully in the labour market and school, respectively. 

All this is staggering and true, yet billions of people worldwide live in a cycle of poverty and disease because they lack safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. Despite progress under the Millenium Development Goals, the water and sanitation challenge remains: a joint publication by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in 2019 reported a total of 2.2 billion people (1 in 3) lack access to safe, readily available water at home. A total of 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation, which means that fecal matter makes its way into drinking water: water sources are not protected, water is not properly treated, transported or stored, and it affects the environment and public health. In combating the spread of COVID-19, we’ve all become acutely aware of the need for handwashing with soap and proper hand hygiene. Still, two in five health care facilities have no soap and water, nor alcohol-based handrub. Two-fifths of the population — three billion people worldwide — lack basic handwashing facilities at home. According to the United Nations, the rate of progress must increase substantially to meet Goal 6 targets by 2030. Acceleration is key. 

Technology and infrastructure alone cannot solve the issue: we need local skills and knowledge. Investing in people yields long-term, sustainable results. If we don’t build and strengthen human capacity, projects are more likely to fail. The Rural Water Supply Network found in 2007 that an average of 36% of hand-pumps across 21 countries in Africa were non-functioning. That represents a total investment of between $1.2 and $1.5 billion USD over 20 years. CAWST sees capacity development as a foundation to achieve SDG 6. Capacity development should result in knowledge transfer, skill development, behaviour change, and ultimately the implementation of appropriate solutions and more effective programs. We are committed to contributing to a world with more knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated practitioners who can effectively plan, design, implement, operate, and maintain WASH programs.

Please describe the initiatives/programs that your company is taking to address the TARGETS of your primary SDGs.

6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

In many settings, household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) can provide a more immediate solution than piped options, while significantly improving water quality, thereby reducing disease. Selecting an appropriate technology, or several technologies, for water source quality and cultural context is key. This is why CAWST houses the world’s largest, open-content HWTS knowledge base. It hosts solutions and information, from technology selection, implementation approaches, and monitoring & evaluation resources. 

In Colombia, CAWST is a committed participant in a multi-sectoral approach to achieving universal coverage. With 20% of the population without access to safe drinking water and safely managed sanitation, the Government of Colombia is looking at HWTS as a way to improve water quality for communities in need. CAWST has partnered with local capacity development organization Fundación Red Proyecto Gente (FRPG) and the Government of Colombia to scale up HWTS. Using an integrated approach with online learning tools and in-person workshops, CAWST has shared knowledge and skills on HWTS options. This reaches local communities in a variety of pathways. For instance, CAWST and FRPG trained community members in La Guajira to become biosand filter technicians. Equipped with knowledge and skills, they are constructing and implementing water filters in households and surrounding communities. 

6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

CAWST is working towards access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by providing capacity development to scale up the adoption of non-networked sanitation. Working with the Pan African Association of Sanitation Actors, the African Water Association, and International Training Network – Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, we are working across continents to advance on citywide inclusive sanitation by improving capacity development opportunities for sanitation workers, municipalities, and other public health professionals. Furthermore, in addition to many knowledge and training resources and a competency framework, we have created a WASH Capacity Catalogue, sharing capacity development opportunities in WASH. 

6.a: Expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes

All that we do, we do in partnership. We partner with organizations to strengthen capacity together, in a specific region or country. Through our Water Expertise and Training (WET) Centre program, started in 2008, we form integrated, long-term partnerships with select in-country organizations to deeply ingrain local knowledge and skills in WASH. 

WET Centres operate within existing, in-country organizations to build local capacity as centres of expertise. WET Centres do locally, what CAWST does globally. Each one is unique in their capabilities and the local needs they work to address. We currently have partnerships with organizations in Afghanistan with DACAAR, Cambodia with WASH Skills Development Organization, Ethiopia Kale Heywet Church, Honduras with Pure Water for the World, Aqua Clara Kenya, Nepal with Environment and Public Health Organization, and Zambia with Africa MANZI Centre. 

In addition, our Training Partners include: Fundación Red Proyecto Gente in Colombia, Sehgal Foundation in India, CDD Society in India, Potters for Peace, Pan African Association of Sanitation Actors, African Water Association, and International Training Network – Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

To expand international cooperation, we are also engaged in multi-country partnerships for WASH. Focusing on water, we co-lead the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) Network, alongside the WHO and Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is a global alliance of hundreds of member organizations, working to scale up the use of HWTS technologies to improve water quality. The mission of the HWTS Network is to contribute to a significant reduction in water-borne and water-related vector-borne diseases, especially among vulnerable populations, by promoting HWTS as a key component of community-targeted environmental health programs.

We are a co-lead on the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance capacity development working group, which aims to create a global network to accelerate and strategically influence capacity development to scale up sustainable sanitation. 

In responding to the pandemic, CAWST partnered with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to develop a free service for practitioners in low- and middle-income countries. The service collates the best available research and evidence to help practitioners rapidly share, design, and adapt hygiene interventions to combat COVID-19.

6.b: Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

We see strengthening the capacity of local organizations as fundamental to improving WASH management. This translates to better decisions, higher adoption and sustained use of WASH technologies and behaviours, ability to overcome challenges and adapt to changing circumstances, ongoing delivery and maintenance of services for the long term, and disaster resilience. 

CAWST has worked with local partners to establish programs such as Community Health Clubs and Healthy Homes. In East Africa, CAWST worked with Aqua Clara Kenya, Africa MANZI Centre in Zambia, and Ethiopia Kale Heywet Church to pilot and scale this approach. Community Health Clubs convene a group of community members to learn and advance on a set of goals. 

Each model had a local context-appropriate design, but generally community members or Community Health Workers are trained to become facilitators of Community Health Clubs. Once trained, facilitators gathered a group of neighbors and led them through a series of activities on a weekly basis. Clubs started by identifying challenges they wanted to approach together. Then, they would advance on their knowledge of solutions and ways to adopt those solutions in the household. Solutions encompassed all aspects of a healthy home: household water treatment, safe water storage, latrines, handwashing facilities, dish drying racks, garbage pits, and more. Transferring learning from this experience, our partner Sehgal Foundation is beginning to adopt and pilot a similar approach in India.

Please highlight the key impacts and results of the mentioned initiatives.

We provide capacity development services, helping others start, strengthen, or scale up their programs. Because our model is based on empowering others to take action, measuring our results depends on understanding how we contribute to their results. Challenging though it may be, we are committed to measuring the change we have contributed to in households and with other institutions, such as schools and health care facilities. To do so, we collect both qualitative and quantitative indicators and we use a combination of feedback, monitoring, and evaluation.  

CAWST measures both reach and impact to capture the breadth and depth of our work. In 2019, we reached 1.45 million people through 88 organizations who used CAWST services. Our reach captures the extent to which CAWST resources and services are used in the provision of WASH services globally. Our reach captures an estimate of how our clients and partners train others, and how far knowledge can spread. 

We achieve reach through our global network. In 2019, we worked with six WET Centres and eight training partners. 2,221 registered users from 194 organizations in 132 countries accessed our online or in-person services. 878 people from 476 organizations in 21 countries attended CAWST’s workshops or received consulting support. 

Our impact captures the number of people with better water, sanitation or hygiene in households or small institutions, such as schools and clinics. Measuring our impact helps us understand the difference our work makes for the people living in poverty, without safe water, basic sanitation, or adequate hygiene in low- and middle-income countries. In 2019, 882,149 people were served with better WASH in households, by 83 clients; and 156,892 people were served with better WASH in institutions, by 60 clients. 

To more deeply understand this impact, we measure CAWST’s contribution to our clients. In doing so, we learned that 130 clients say CAWST helped them design, strengthen the quality and sustainability of their WASH programs, or reach more people; and 91 clients say CAWST helped them design WASH capacity development services, strengthen the quality and sustainability of these services, or to reach more people with them. 

For example, Sehgal Foundation reported serving 4,000 people in households through their biosand filter programs, and educating 20,000 people with safe water and hygiene practices. As a training partner, they have also provided training and support to 80 other organizations in India. In the last four years, Sehgal Foundation’s clients have reached about 10,000 families with better quality water, and 200,000 with education on safe water. How did CAWST contribute to these results? According to Sehgal Foundation, CAWST contributed to these results by: improving the quality of WASH programs with monitoring support, supporting Community WASH Promoter training and demand creation, enabling Sehgal to reach more people with their services, creating and delivering more effective WASH capacity development services, and supporting WASH capacity development services to reach more people and targeting different audiences.

While these measures capture our reach and impact in broad strokes, we also evaluate more project-specific results. 

Regarding the aforementioned Community Health Club pilots, the results of the first phase of the pilot have been promising. In Zambia, AFMAC engaged 18 Community Health Clubs, each implementing an average of 20 new practices to improve health. In Kenya, ACK trained 36 community health volunteers and established 37 clubs with a total of 632 members. Furthermore, they sold 195 membrane filters, resulting in 1,232 people with access to safe drinking water. In Ethiopia, EKHC added WASH lessons to reach a network of nearly 16,000 Self Help Groups. 

Since COVID-19 Hygiene Hub began in May 2020, the team has produced 169 resources, which synthesize global evidence and guidelines, and provide practical implementation ideas, available in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. The resources have been accessed more than 37,000 times to date. The COVID-19 Hygiene Hub has provided rapid, technical advice, and project support to more than 132 organizations across 60 countries, and in-depth project support to 41 global or national initiatives.

Please describe how your company is building awareness for the selected SDG

Internally, the CAWST staff and board are very engaged in support of SDG 6. We engage all staff in telling our story and profiling our work. This takes on many forms from content ideation, to creating materials to share with our board and donor base to developing internal learning opportunities. Staff engage each other in advancing our learning and professional development with regular lunch and learns, and our biannual learning exchange, which brings the whole organization and board together in participatory learning to advance on SDG 6. Supporting SDG 6 underpins the entire organization. CAWST internal communications channels are constantly abuzz with the latest sector news and innovative ideas on advancing SDG 6. 

Externally, CAWST practices public engagement that is focused on educating, inspiring, and empowering Canadian global citizenship. CAWST engages the general public especially around key UN observances, such as International Development Week, World Water Day, Global Handwashing Day, and World Toilet Day. Our content is focused on explaining the need for progress on these key areas in the world, and providing learning tools to advance knowledge on water and sanitation. We work to engage local media to profile the importance behind these days and promote owned content on our channels. For instance, for World Toilet Day, we created a free, interactive learning tool and on Global Handwashing Day, we spoke with Global TV on the importance of hygiene and behaviour change. 

Additionally, CAWST engages several local businesses and corporate partners. CAWST has local business partners within Calgary, including Kaffeklatsch, Poopheart, and Urban Thrift Consignment. We regularly engage our business partners through learning events, enabling them to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of SDG 6 with their customers. Furthermore, CAWST engages our corporate partners in volunteering opportunities. For example, H2O Innovation partnered with us to develop a Humanitarian Committee of volunteers within their company, and even sent two volunteers to help strengthen capacity in collaboration with CAWST in Zambia. 

To inspire the next generation of global citizens around SDG 6, CAWST runs a program called Youth Wavemakers. The goal is to build awareness with youth and give them the tools they need to take action on local and global water and sanitation issues. We do this by providing resources, such as lesson plans, videos, games, and action project tools. Through Wavemakers, many youth groups and classrooms have taken on action projects that address water and sanitation challenges; from portable toilets, to awareness raising campaigns, students use their knowledge, creativity, and enthusiasm to make waves and take action for a thirsty planet. CAWST is a member of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation, part of a cross-Canada network of organizations and individuals, working locally and globally to advance sustainable development and global citizenship.

Please outline the plans your organization has for being committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in response to COVID-19

Our current focus is adapting to the needs of our clients in response to the pandemic. The pandemic has magnified the need for safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Affordable technologies and practices change people’s lives for the better, and are often a first step in a series of incremental improvements leading to long-term, sustained change. We focus on technologies and practices that will make a difference immediately and have the greatest potential for wide-scale impact. Our priorities are to: 1) Respond to real-time, immediate needs of our clients and partners, enabling effective, adaptive responses to COVID-19 with evidence-based interventions, such as handwashing stations and hygiene programs. 2) Train and consult on the most relevant water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) solutions for organizations to start, strengthen, or scale up their WASH programs. We are also expanding our services to include more on affordable solutions for schools and clinics.

Secondly, we will advance integrated learning approaches, using online and in-person learning opportunities. People with knowledge, skills, and motivation take action in their homes, communities, and countries, and inspire others to do the same. CAWST has observed this consistently over our 19 years of experience, and the pandemic has demonstrated the power of individual action for collective impact. CAWST is using this time to expand our online services faster than originally planned and to push the boundaries of what is possible for remote training and consulting support. We are creating an even stronger, more effective team that can perform efficiently and rapidly, both online and in person, when the latter becomes possible again. CAWST is innovating how we get the necessary information to the people who need it, in a timely, accessible way. Using a strong base of existing materials on core WASH topics that we have developed and kept up to date over the past (almost) two decades, we are focusing on sharing the information in a way that is practical, quick, and easy to understand. 

Responses to COVID-19 have strengthened and renewed our partnerships, and enabled us to forge new ones. Working with ENPHO in Nepal, a partner in our WET Centre program, we adapted existing programming around water and sanitation to focus on new scope around sanitation and hygiene. Hygiene was a new topic for us to focus on, but much of our fundamental work around behaviour change remained constant. Leveraging several communication channels, we started to share targeted messaging on preventing the spread of COVID-19. They created a new Facebook page called WASH for Healthy Life. They engaged all the local municipalities and their pages to push targeted messaging together. But not everyone has access to reliable internet, especially in rural areas. So, they designed their content for radio too.

The content is clever and compelling: they create a bi-weekly, six-minute segment called The COVID Show. The show is part content, part Q&A, and part call to action. Each show focuses on a theme, often starting with information about COVID-19 in the world, then zooming into Nepal. For example, early episodes focused on transmission and how to protect the people we love from COVID-19. Later episodes focus on how to keep yourself safe doing everyday activities, such as going to the market or going to the water source to fetch water. Viewers and listeners appreciate that the show includes real people asking questions and receiving answers from a trusted source, such as a doctor. Each episode elicits a call to action to “take no chances with COVID.” Viewers are asked to build handwashing stations at home, make soap or masks, and practice handwashing with soap regularly.

So far, we’ve found 37,772 households have been reached, exceeding the original target of 29,000. As of September 11, this includes more than 18,000 households who have constructed a handwashing station since the campaign began.

Working with ENPHO is one example, but we’ve shifted our work with many of our partners. In Ethiopia, we’ve supported EKHC to shift Self Help Group lessons to focus on COVID-19, and engage with local health authorities to spread hygiene messaging. In Zambia, we supported AFMAC to spread physical distancing messages, and install handwashing stations in rural communities. We also consulted them as they trained 160 community health workers to teach on handwashing and hygiene practices. 

COVID-19 Hygiene Hub is a new partnership that has emerged out of the pandemic. We will continue to collaborate with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to share evidence-based resources to support COVID-19 response in low- and middle-income countries. CAWST is also a newly-appointed member of the Global Handwashing Partnership, and was a contributor to the Handwashing Handbook. 

Though much of our work in response to the pandemic has focused on hygiene and handwashing, we’ve also adapted water and WASH program design courses to an online format. Working with clients in Nicaragua, the inter-departmental and sectoral commission for SDG 6, Water and Sanitation Network of Nicaragua, and the WaterAid America SMART Centre, CAWST hosted a virtual course on the importance of water quality and household water treatment and safe storage, to share knowledge and create strategies around improving health through WASH.