Fall, Tu/Th 4-5:15pm, SEEC N125

Instructor: Rita Klees

Course Description

Safe drinking water and sanitation are crucial to human welfare, healthy environments, economic growth and livelihoods.   While water and sanitation came to be regarded as key to improved health in the growing cities of Europe and America in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, low and middle income countries have lagged behind.   In 2019,  three in ten people around the world lack access to safe and readily available water at home, and almost six in ten lack access to improved sanitation.  Over 1 billion people defecate in the open.  Around 1.8 billion peo­ple globally use a source of drinking water that is contaminated.       Poor hygiene practices exacerbate inadequate water and sanitation outcomes, e.g. less than 19% of the world’s population practice handwashing with soap after contact with excreta.   Besides the challenge of reaching the unserved, maintaining investments already made in  water and sanitation infrastructure and services is difficult.  Over the past 20 years, 30-40% of rural water systems in Sub-Saharan Africa have failed prematurely and more than half of all installed toilets were unused, misused or abandoned.    The overall result is environmental degradation, public health risks, and an economic burden for the poorest of the poor in the world.    Against this backdrop, the 2016 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals include Goal #6 to “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.”  

This course will examine current conditions and trends in water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in developing countries.    We will take a critical look at the underlying political, economic, social, and technical reasons why millions of people  still do not have safe drinking water and improved sanitation services, and lack hygiene practices that ensure health benefits.  We will examine a broad range of WASH interventions and programming.  The course will be taught in 3, five week parts: 

  1. Drinking Water Supply
  2. Sanitation & Hygiene
  3. Overarching Issues in WASH

The course will include:

  • the global state of WASH
  • Sustainable Development Goal #6 and its targets
  • sustainable water and sanitation technologies in rural and urban settings
  • sustainable WASH service delivery – a systems based approach
  • providing services in challenging environments
  • universal access - reaching the vulnerable and hard to serve communities
  • non-household WASH – schools, health care facilities
  • the waste management stream, e.g. fecal sludge management, waste to resource innovations/options
  • water and sanitation as a business:  innovation and entrepreneurship
  • community-based approaches in WASH
  • the role of hygiene and behaviors in achieving WASH goals
  • the WASH enabling environment: institutional, policy and financing dimensions
  • WASH and water resource management
  • cross-cutting issues -  the enabling environment, financing, gender, non-household WASH services, climate change

Throughout the course, using case studies, guest speakers, debates, readings and videos, we will examine best practices in sustainable WASH programming.  Novel strategies for implementation will be studied, including WASH improvements that use systems approaches and create synergies across sectors or that employ strategies to advance individual empowerment and community efficacy.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course the students will be able to identify:

  • the nature and scope of the WASH challenge
  • the social, economic, institutional, and environmental benefits and challenges of providing access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation in developing countries
  • WASH technical options for a variety of settings
  • Sustainable WASH service delivery approaches
  • vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations and ways to reach them
  • the role of hygiene and behavioral change in the WASH sector
  • innovative approaches to improved WASH particularly in light of future challenges such as water scarcity, conflict, climate change, and urbanization
  • emerging issues and research needs


This course is open to graduate students in all disciplines, and undergraduates with permission of the instructor (undergraduate section is 3 credits, not three 1-credit modules).