Written by Robyn Fischer 4:00 pm Column, IWSH

IWSH Continues to Deliver Clean Water, Safe Sanitation One Community at a Time

As the non-profit foundation of The IAPMO Group, the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH) leverages industry-leading plumbing expertise to solve the most difficult water and sanitation challenges. 

In 2023, IWSH worked on several projects that improved community health and safety through plumbing interventions in underserved areas around the world. 

Globally, there are more than 2 billion people who lack access to safely managed drinking water at home, and 3.6 billion people — nearly half the world’s population — who don’t have access to safely managed sanitation. Even in the United States, there are 2.2 million who live without running water and basic indoor plumbing. Without plumbing systems that safely deliver these basic needs, people are at risk of waterborne illnesses and infections that gravely affect their quality of life. 

IWSH unites manufacturers, product innovators, researchers, plumbers, and NGOs to protect health and advance well-being through plumbing. We bring clean drinking water and safe sanitation to marginalized communities that are underserved and under-resourced. We do this through the generous support of our donors, enabling us to do what we do best: work with local partners and prominent members of the community to address real problems, deliver cost-effective plumbing system design that meets all local codes and standards, and provide the necessary education to assure improved and sustained access to clean water, safe sanitation, and adequate hygiene services. 

In the United States, we continued our efforts to support communities in Alabama and Navajo Nation with projects that protect their health and safety. In Navajo Nation, IWSH has installed new plumbing systems for families that have never had running water in the home, and also provided new septic systems for hard-to-reach communities. Navajo Nation is the largest land area held by a Native American tribe in the United States. More than 30 percent still don’t have a tap or toilet at home — Navajo are 67 times more likely than other Americans to live without running water or a toilet. The Indian Health Service (IHS) has committed to funding pump trucks for certain Navajo communities and septic tank disposal facilities, but there is a great need to repair or replace failed, conventional septic systems. 

As part of our ongoing collaboration with the DigDeep Navajo Water Project, IWSH designed and installed two pressurized mound septic systems in the Baca-Prewitt area of the Navajo Nation, about 40 miles east of Gallup, New Mexico. These two sites serve as a demonstration for Navajo authorities and members of the community so they can see how engineered systems could be selected, designed, and utilized on the reservation. Our team led briefings about the functionality, maintenance, and appearance of pressurized systems, and underscored the importance of proper septic systems to protect the health and well-being of Navajo people. 

In Alabama, communities throughout the Blackbelt region face serious health threats due to ineffective or lack-of sanitation services. Many low-income homeowners are unable to afford an on-site sewage disposal system, instead resorting to straight piping, which releases sewage above ground. IWSH joined forces with LIXIL Americas, FujiClean USA, and UA locals to support the Blackbelt Unincorporated Wastewater Program, a local non-profit organization that started a septic program in Lowndes County, about an hour from Montgomery, Alabama. 

As part of this effort, IWSH coordinated plumbing industry resources and licensed and qualified volunteer plumbers to assess, repair, and upgrade plumbing systems within homes. The new, water efficient fixtures helped to improve access to clean drinking water, reduce the burden on septic systems, limit water waste, and lower utility fees for homeowners. 

In Europe, we launched our new Plumbing Champions initiative, which leverages existing trade fairs and skills competitions to promote workforce development and provide a community service. At WorldSkills Australia National Championships, IWSH worked with 12 young plumbers from across Australia to prepare 16 new handwash stations for installation at Yooralla, an organization that supports people with disabilities of all ages and needs across Melbourne and regional Victoria. The systems were installed as part of a training exercise by volunteers from the RAW Group Training Organization, a company that provides host employers and Aboriginal job seekers culturally safe employment opportunities across corporate Australia. 

And on the global stage, IWSH worked with stakeholders to elevate the need for lead-free fixtures in plumbing systems at the United Nations Water Conference in New York. 

There is an urgent need to reduce human exposure to lead in the environment, including lead in drinking water — a source of exposure that is wholly preventable. Children, in particular, must be able to grow in a lead-free environment. IWSH joined sector partners to identify solutions and formed commitments to work toward lead-free drinking water globally. These groups developed and launched the Lead-Free Water Pledge, which aims to build momentum around local and global initiatives to progressively reduce exposure to lead from drinking water and protect public health. The goal is to work collectively toward preventing lead-leaching from new drinking water systems by 2030 and to make all drinking water lead free by 2040. The initiative focuses on improving water quality by constructing new water systems with products and materials that meet international standards for lead-leaching, material safety and performance. And this work is now included as part of United Nation’s official Water Action Agenda. 

Our IWSH team is so proud to have deepened our impact this past year. With our partners and sponsors, we have helped to improve health and safety through WASH projects in underserved and under-resourced communities. 

In the coming years, IWSH will continue to address health, safety and drinking water quality through the following streams of work: plumbing upgrades and repairs in homes and community spaces to improve drinking water and water efficiency; demonstrating wastewater solutions to promote safe sanitation; supporting plumbing workforce development in hard-to-reach communities; profiling plumbing champions for social impact; and exploring alternate water solutions to help communities better adapt to the impacts of climate change and improve WASH access. 

Read about all the projects IWSH implemented in our 2023 Year in Review: Impactful Plumbing Around the World. And read about the future of IWSH programs in our 2024-2026 Program Guide.

Robyn Fischer
Senior Director, North America, International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation

Last modified: March 20, 2024