The UK’s changing approach to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

This information note provides an account of the development of the UK’s WASH portfolio between 2017 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, how it has been adapted since, and how well the UK works with multilateral, NGO and private sector partners on WASH.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 7 April 2022
  3. Type: Information note
  4. Subject: Global health, UK aid funds
  5. Lead commissioner: Tamsyn Barton
  6. SDGs covered:Clean water and sanitation

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Information note

This information note provides an account of the evolution of the UK’s WASH portfolio and approach since its 2016 review into the topic, including the response of the portfolio to the pandemic.

The note observes a fall of two-thirds in bilateral WASH expenditure since UK aid for WASH peaked in 2018, at £206.5 million, to an estimated £70 million in 2021, with the full effects of these reductions on programming still emerging. This reduction in expenditure pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued as a result of reductions in the UK aid budget in 2020 and 2021.

During the evidence gathering for this work, ICAI was told by FCDO that new WASH programmes are in preparation, as part of ongoing business planning launched under the current three-year spending review.

Proposed lines of enquiry

  • UK leadership: Following a period of declining UK bilateral aid for WASH, will the UK regain an intellectual leadership role and rebuild its comparative advantage in the WASH sector?
  • Adequacy of investment: Will the UK be willing to sustain the levels of investment required to achieve its system-building goals, and achieve an appropriate balance between system building and capital investment?
  • Technical capacity: How will FCDO ensure that it continues to have sufficient technical capacity to support its WASH approach?
  • Fragile contexts: Is FCDO’s system-building approach viable in fragile and conflict-affected countries, given resource and capacity constraints?
  • Integrated programming: When integrating WASH objectives into health and education programmes, how will FCDO ensure that they receive sufficient resources and attention from implementing partners?
  • Gender and climate change: How will the UK integrate the perspectives of women and girls impacted by growing water scarcity into its programming on WASH and water security?
  • Hygiene behaviour change: Will the results of FCDO’s investments in handwashing and hygiene behaviour change prove sustainable after fear of the pandemic subsides?


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Published 9 February 2022

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 7 April 2022

Further scrutiny

To be confirmed