Humanitarian WASH – Q&A with Travis Yates of Tufts University

Many thanks to Travis Yatestravis.yates@tufts.edufor sharing some of his insights and experiences in humanitarian WASH. 

Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself and current position?

My name is Travis Yates and I’m a post-doc at Tufts University working with Dr. Daniele Lantagne. Before my time at Tufts, I spent four years in Afghanistan with a couple international NGOs and another six months in Lebanon setting up the response for Syrian refugee influx of 2012 and 2013. After that, I received a fellowship in Water Diplomacy and started my PhD working with Dr. Lantagne on the evidence around humanitarian WASH.

I completed a couple of systematic reviews of WASH in emergencies and have been working with Dr. Lantagne ever since. My most recent work has been with the Global WASH Cluster to gather lessons learned around WASH coordination during a humanitarian response. Assessing the evidence and [potential] impact of coordination across different contexts is quite a challenge.

We have also been working on a resource center with the Global WASH Cluster to maintain key documents that WASH responders would find useful. It is not every WASH document, but focused on: lessons learned, research, or tool kits for humanitarian WASH:

How did you get into working with humanitarian WASH programs specifically?

I applied to an internship program with an international NGO while I was in my final year at university. A six-month commitment abroad seemed like a great opportunity to use my freshly learned engineering skills to help others, not to mention a bit of an adventure.

I was stationed in Afghanistan and had good exposure to writing proposals, organizing workshops, and working with a diverse team. I loved it and came back for a couple more years. I liked the challenges and serving communities in need. I’ve had a few different positions in my international experience but I focused on WASH mostly because of my background with civil engineering.

That focus continued in graduate school, first in applied fluid mechanics then toward public health in the environmental health program at Tufts. Overall, it has been a good balance between engineering and health that I think we see in WASH programming.

Where do you see the humanitarian WASH field headed in the next 5–10 years?

Evidence and Data. I could be biased, but it seems that there is a big push toward more evidence in humanitarian work, and consequently we need more data. Donors and responding organizations want to knowwhat works and what doesn’t.

With more people in need, we need to make sure projects are truly making an impact. Unfortunately, any responder would tell you that getting the data in an emergency to support evidence is just really hard. Timing and logistics are challenges, available resources and ethics considerations are difficult too.

It’s also important to note that this isn’t collecting data for the sake of more data. It needs to be specific and targeted. We have been doing WASH projects for a long time and we have a good grasp on many aspects; however, gaps remain – which is why I think some of the gap exercises and reviews are important for the entire sector.

More specifically, I see cash and vouchers playing a bigger role in the humanitarian response – especially in some of the chronic and protracted contexts which we are seeing more of. I also think expectations around program quality will progress. Tufts has a small role working with Oxfam and Solidarités to help define WASH quality and beneficiary accountability. It is certainly something we need to be working toward and I’m glad to be in that conversation.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges ahead for humanitarian WASH?

Transitioning to Development and Funding. Going from an emergency to development is a big transition and I don’t think we have many good examples of that consistently working well. Bringing in local government and national organizations will be a key component to success, but there is a lot of variability between contexts.

And then, I think funding will be an issue simply because we have more people in need for longer times. Already many contexts are underfunded, but there is also increasing impacts with climate change and multiple large-scale conflicts around the world. We have to get more efficient with our projects because the basic needs beneficiaries will still be there.

All Women Need Equal Access to Water and Sanitation

All Women Need Equal Access to Water and Sanitation. by Pallavi Bharadwaj, Engineering for Change, March 9, 2020.

International Womens’ Day was recently celebrated worldwide, but many women and girls have little cause for celebration in at least one aspect of their lives. They have to walk miles each day to fetch potable water. This year #IWD2020’s theme was #EachforEqual.

Twenty-five years after adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), the UN-Women’s executive director reports that no country has achieved equality for women and girls.

No country has reached low inequality in human development without reducing the loss coming from gender inequality.

Inequality is evident in access to Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) related issues, too. Women and girls bear the brunt of spending unequal numbers of hours collecting water for their households and enduring physical and emotional injuries in doing so.

And despite those efforts, many are still unable to provide water security at a rate that is difficult to quantify, according to Sera Young, professor of anthropology and global health at Northwestern University.

Read the complete article.

Promoting Latrine Sales in CLTS Interventions through Integrated Sanitation Marketing – USAID ACCES

LEARNING BRIEF: Promoting Latrine Sales in CLTS Interventions through Integrated Sanitation Marketing. USAID ACCES, January 2020.

USAID/ACCES has found that hygiene and sanitation marketing is effective in generating demand for latrines and contributes to sanitation market development in both rural and peri-urban communities.

Key ACCES success factors include high levels of community engagement, active community leaders through the VMC model, and innovative financing mechanisms.

Below are recommendations derived from USAID/ACCES’ experience:

  • Establish fundamental success criteria to use in CLTS site selection.
  • Develop sanitation product models in advance through participatory approaches to ensure products are well adapted to CLTS sites.
  • Ensure a thorough mapping exercise to prevent targeting villages with active subsidized latrine projects.
  • Ensure sufficient locally-based human resources, in both quantity and quality, ideally: two community-level agents for each group of 5 – 6 villages, one to manage the CLTS/SBCC activities and the other to manage the income-generating activities (IGA)/financing activities.
  • Integrate existing community members and networks into the latrine marketing process (e.g. community leaders, women’s groups, community-based organizations, local entrepreneurs and service providers
  • Broker lending via microfinance institutions to pre-finance latrine purchases.
  • Train local networks to promote latrine sales to groups.
  • Include IGA training activities in the project to better support women’s groups in CLTS communities to generate income, which can be used to purchase latrines.
  • Encourage women’s groups in CLTS communities to promote Sagal latrines, to provide financing, and to participate in IGA training.
  • Establish a relationship between local health workers and community-based agents so that patients who do not have adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities at their homes can be referred by the health workers to the project actors.

USAID WASH updates | Research on open defecation, MHM, water utilities, etc.

Updates to

Sanitation Studies and Reports

Understanding Open Defecation in the Age of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Agency, Accountability, and Anger in Rural Bihar. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, February 2020. Our study used ethnographic methods to explore perspectives on open defecation and latrine use, and the socio-economic and political reasons for these perspectives, in rural Bihar.

Human fecal contamination of water, soil, and surfaces in households sharing poor-quality sanitation facilities in Maputo, Mozambique. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2020 Mar 2. Our results describe a setting impacted by pervasive domestic fecal contamination, including from human sources, that was largely disconnected from the observed variation in socioeconomic and sanitary conditions.

Practices and Perspectives on Latrine Use, Child Feces Disposal, and Clean Play Environments in Western Kenya. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, March 2020. Barriers to safe disposal of child feces were lack of latrines, time associated with safe disposal practices, beliefs that infant feces were not harmful, and not knowing where children had defecated. Primary barriers of clean play environments were associated with creating and maintaining play spaces, and shared human and animal compounds.

Associations between enteric pathogen carriage and height-for-age, weight-for-age and weight-for-height in children under 5 years old in urban Dhaka, Bangladesh. Epidemiology and Infection, February 2020.  Stool-based enteric pathogen detection provides a direct indication of previous exposure that may be useful as a broader endpoint of trials of environmental interventions.

Information resources on WASH and the Coronavirus

Please leave a comment or email us if you have additional studies, guidelines, etc. to add to this webliography.


Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19 technical brief. WHO; UNICEF, March 3, 2020. This Technical Brief supplements existing IPC documents by referring to and summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health care waste which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses).

To fight the coronavirus, wash your hands and support clean water access around the world. by Susan Barnett, USA Today, March 4, 2020. We can’t build a wall around a germ. But we can wash our hands, and our government can help countries trying to improve their health facilities.

Sphere: WASH & the Coronavirus – The document outlines the underlying principles and the importance of community engagement, as well as a detailed review of the relevant technical guidance in the WASH and Health chapters.

Key Considerations: Quarantine in the Context of COVID-19 | Social Science in Humanitarian Action

Blog Posts

COVID-19–why the gaps in available data are far more terrifying. IRCWASH Blog, March 2020. An excerpt – The WASH community must support health authorities in tackling the outbreak by; Amplifying the emphasis on hygiene and handwashing by any means; Make available its expertise, from technical solutions to campaigning and improving water security; Prioritise its work with healthcare facilities to prevent them becoming sources of viral transmission.


WHO – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak – Situation reports, technical guidance, media resources, online training, videos.

CDC – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – What you should know, situation updates, information for healthcare professionals, communities, schools and businesses.

Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP) – GHP SoapBox Newsletter – Handwashing as a Preventative Measure: Updates on the Coronavirus Outbreak, February 2020. In this SoapBox edition, we provide an update on the coronavirus outbreak, including its impacts, measures you can take to protect yourself, and what GHP partners are doing to respond.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases Dashboard | Johns Hopkins CSSE

Other Resources

In an effort to increase transparency and communication, major publishers have created Coronavirus information centers, where relevant and current research is freely available. This includes Springer Nature, Elsevier and Wiley. Several major journals have done the same, including: The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine and The British Medical Journal.

WASTE Performance Evaluation: Circular Economy Model with Black and Greywater Recycling in India

WASTE Performance Evaluation: Circular Economy Model with Black and Greywater Recycling in India. SWFF, August 2019.

WASTE Intervention – The intervention has two major technical applications: a) greywater recycling at the local level, and, b) faecal sludge recycling with organic solid waste using co-composting methods.

Typically, faecal sludge was collected and dumped either at open grounds at distant locations or into the nearest body of water, resulting in heavy freshwater contamination.

The WASTE intervention collects faecal sludge from private vacuum truck operators, transports it to the treatment site and feeds into the system.

Diamond Model – The Diamond Model produces nutrient rich co-compost to be used as a soil conditioner for cultivation of exotic vegetables by female farmers in the District.

The model focuses on four key areas for successful implementation and sustainability in the agriculture sector: a) farmers raising the demands, b) female Self Help Group (SHG) members involved with companies producing and managing the cocompost supply, c) agri-marketing companies to manage finances, and, d) government authorities to implement the project focused on treatment of faecal sludge and grey water.

The technical innovations within the model involve recycling grey water and using treated water for irrigation in critical periods of lower rainfall and dry seasons.

Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19 technical brief – WHO; UNICEF

Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19 technical brief. WHO; UNICEF, March 3, 2020.

This Technical Brief supplements existing IPC documents by referring to and summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health care waste which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses).

This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers.