CU Boulder to Lead $15.3 Million Initiative for Sustainable Water and Sanitation for Development


The University of Colorado Boulder has been selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to lead a $15.3 million effort to better understand how to improve the sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions in the developing world. Globally, more than 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities, and 660 million people are without access to safe drinking water. 

Over the course of the five-year cooperative agreement, Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities co-director Karl Linden, associate director for research Amy Javernick-Will and associate director for outreach Rita Klees will coordinate the efforts of seven organizations in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia.

The Sustainable WASH Systems Initiative aims to develop, test and document high-potential approaches to engaging local WASH systems across multiple countries and contexts. The goal is to test different approaches leading to WASH interventions that are sustained by local stakeholders beyond the life of the project, and inform the design of future development assistance efforts in this sector.

CU Boulder and learning partner Environmental Incentives will coordinate the efforts of three project teams:

  • IRC Netherlands, Tetra Tech and LINC will work in two countries in Africa to develop and test a replicable approach to engaging with, understanding and strengthening decentralized local systems for water and sanitation. 
  • WaterSHED and LINC will develop a locally led platform to coordinate WASH sector (particularly donor-financed) activities in the implementation of national strategies and action plans.  
  • Whave in Uganda and UNICEF in Kenya will test, revise and scale up public-private partnership models that improve rural WASH service delivery.

Javernick-Will explained that CU Boulder will coordinate the program, ensuring that lessons are learned across the three projects to address systemic problems and facilitate sustainable solutions.

The group wants to ensure that water or sanitation services financed by government or donor investments maintain results and deliver results in the long term. For instance, over the past 20 years, failed hand pumps in Africa represent a total lost investment of between $1.2 and $1.5 billion; 30-40 percent of rural water systems have failed prematurely; and more than half of all subsidized toilets unused, misused or abandoned.

In addition to coordinating research efforts, CU Boulder will also drive the project’s educational components by partnering with local universities, providing overall analysis of the groups’ efforts, and publishing papers and other learning products on their findings.

Javernick-Will said she is excited about the learning opportunities the program provides for CU Boulder students, and about the ability of the Mortenson Center to help create sustainable water and sanitation systems in communities.

“Students will be able to work with these groundbreaking organizations, get hands-on exposure to international development and help to solve sanitation and water problems,” she said. “I’m excited that CU will be able to bring cutting edge research and analytical techniques to strengthen the USAID sustainable WASH program and improve WASH interventions globally.”

“The opportunity for our students and faculty to work with the partners on this program, in the international spotlight, is tremendous and we are very excited to get our students in the field and put into practice what they’ve studied through classes and outreach activities,” Linden added. “These types of opportunities for research are core to the mission of the Mortenson Center’s students and faculty focus on creating sustainable development solutions.”

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