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Who invented the term "WASH" for water, sanitation, hygiene?

Dear Knowledge Point members,

Elisabeth posted this question in the SuSanA Forum (

Refering to the following Wiki Passage: ( After 2000, WSSCC expanded its work to include advocacy and communications. It introduced WASH as an umbrella term for water, sanitation and hygiene; this acronym has been broadly adopted in international development circles.

This is just minor question but I am curious if any of the more senior folks can help me with this: Who invented the term WASH (for water, sanitation, hygiene, see Was it really WSSCC?

Is this statement correct? If yes, can we find a document from WSSCC in the year 2000 where the term WASH was first used?

Could someone of your help us with the answer?

Thank you very much and best regards,

Jasmin (on behalf of the SuSanA secretariat)

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11 Answers

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Dear Jasmin, The acronym WASH was indeed coined by the members of the WSSCC who were dealing with advocacy and Communication, but it emerged over a tIme frame of some three years.

Documents on that can still be found online. I was involved at that time as IRC Communications Officer And Editor of the Source Bulletin that IRC co-procuded with the WSSCC.

Here follow some quotes and links: From my Advocacy TOP 2003: The WASH campaign was launched at the Bonn Freshwater Conference in December 2001. It emerged from the earlier efforts on public information and promotion for water and sanitation in the 1980s, followed by the work of an international working group on Information, Education and Communication (IEC) of the WSSCC. This group from 1991 - 1997 developed and tested various advocacy and communication tools.

From various issues of Source Bulletin that are available in PDF format from

WSSCC sections in Source Bulletin no 16 of May 2001: The Council reported that it would change emphasis from applied research results sharing to advocacy for influencing other organizations on key WASH themes. Some 250 "ambassadors" for VISION 21 agreed to this change in the Igacu Action Program at the 5th Global Water Forum of the WSSCC in Brazil in 2000.

The Council itself will to become more visible on the world stage both at established major events (Bonn, 2001, Johannesburg, 2002, Kyoto, 2003) and through pursuing a higher profile media coverage. To this end, a new advocacy and communications strategy has been developed, which will be implemented following agreement and ratification by the WSSCC steering committee.

In Source Bulletin No. 17, July 2001: Steering committee members and 20 other strategic partners met in Geneva on 17 and 18 May 2001 to discuss how the IAP programme is being implemented. The general atmosphere was good, positive, and supportive, with many useful suggestions for potential action. These actions were grouped under a number of headings: Sanitation/ hygiene education Institutional and management reform Community-based approaches Advocacy Monitoring Networking Dissemination of knowledge and best practices

That same issue carried an article about the setting up of a new advisory group on WASH advocacy. It was composed of six core specialists from different fields - ranging from radio, television and print media, to social mobilisation and the Internet. Other experts in the communications arena will be called upon to join in the group's discussions, which will take place mostly in the virtual world.

As an expert group of communications professionals with track records of undertaking advocacy and communications activities at national, regional and global levels, AGWA will act as an advisory arm of the Council's Steering Committee. The group will develop a global strategy in advocacy and communications for water, sanitation and hygiene within the context of poverty reduction and sustainable development. AGWA will hold its first meeting at WaterA id in London, from 19 to 20 July 2001.

The WSSCC organised a ... (more)

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Well probably unrelated, but the word "WASH" seems to have been much more popular in English language books in the 1970 & 80:

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The more important question is: should it be “WASH” or “WaSH”? ;-)

Sean_RWSN gravatar imageSean_RWSN ( 2016-01-15 15:14:57 +0000 )edit

As a member of the 'more senior folks', I thought I should point out that the acronym originated early in the International Decade for Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, 1981 - 1990. However, it was coined by USAID for their Water and Sanitation for Health project, so I think it is a bit cheeky of the WSSCC to claim its origination, they only repurposed it!

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On the WEDC knowledge base, the earliest USAID WASH project report is 1981 - that's report number 7

and also in Zambia they were using WASHE (Water Sanitation Health Education) in 1987

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Dear Brian,

thanks for this info. Wow, as early as 1981! Sounds like I have to change the Wikipedia article again.

A few days ago, I had posted on the SuSanA discussion forum to explain the changes I made to the article on WASH on Wikipedia:

(it's a bit odd to run this discussion on two places in parallel; but perhaps also a good example of how the two communities can interact with each other).

In that post I had written (the formatting got lost when I copied it to here):


Dear Eddy (and all),

Thanks a lot for your valuable contribution here! Based on what you, Dick and "The_Specialist" said (see posts above), I have now modified the text on Wikipedia as follows:

On the article about WASH, the history section (

History [edit source | edit]

The acronym "WASH" was used from about 1988 onwards as an abbreviation for the "Water and Sanitation for Health" Project of the United States Agency for International Development.[19] At that time, the letter "H" in the acronym stood for "health", not "hygiene".

From about 2001 onwards, international organizations active in the area of water supply and sanitation advocacy, such as the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) in the Netherlands began to use "WASH" as an umbrella term for water, sanitation and hygiene.[20] "WASH" has since then been broadly adopted as a handy acronym for water, sanitation and hygiene in the international development context.[21]

The term "water" in this acronym is generally understood to refer to water supply only, not e.g. to integrated water resources management (IWRM) or water resource management in agriculture.

(to see what the references in square brackets are, see link above)

And on the article about WSSCC, history (

After 2000, WSSCC expanded its work to include advocacy and communications, and began to use WASH as an umbrella term for water, sanitation and hygiene from about 2001 onwards.[42] This acronym existed as early as 1988 as an abbreviation for the "Water and Sanitation for Health" Project at the United States Agency for International Development.[43] "WASH" has now been broadly adopted in international development circles.[44]

This removes the earlier claim that it was WSSCC on its own who had "invented" the term WASH.

Do people agree with this wording?

And I would still like to add some pros and cons about the term WASH, if someone would like to help me with that?

You might be wondering "why is she so obsessed with getting things on Wikipedia right?". Well, time and time again I've heard from newcomers that their first hurdle in reading our documents was that nobody explained the abbreviation WASH. So what would a newcomer, or a journalist or a politican do? They would turn to Wikipedia and see how it is explained there. So ... (more)

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Dear Krischan Makowka and dijoh2o,

Thank you very much for your answers, we posted them on the SuSanA Forum. I leave the link in case you want to follow the discussion:

Regards, Evelyn (on behalf of the SuSanA secretariat)

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Hi Dick,

Thanks a lot for your detailed response!! Much appreciated. Now I have to try and massage/distill that into a statement that I could put in the Wikipedia article. Perhaps something like "The first mentioning in an important publication was by xxx in xxx". Which of the ones that you listed above would you recommend that I take for this purpose?

And do you recall any sort of meeting or discussion where people were pondering over the pros and cons of calling it WASH? Were there any particular people in favor of it and others against it?

I'll put the same post also on the SuSanA discussion forum here, as I find its archiving and search function better than on Knowledge Point:

Regards, Elisabeth

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Ah, interesting, thanks for your reply, "The_Specialist"! It's especially these "more senior folks" who are needed for answering questions like this. :-)

Does that mean the term WASH used to mean "Water, sanitation and health" (coined by USAID in the 1980s) and was later (in the early 2000s) modified by WSSCC and IRC to mean "Water, sanitation and hygiene"?

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I am grateful to find interest in the origin of the term 'WASH'. Having been trained in community water supply and sanitation in the late 80s, but followed a different life&career path, it is with dismay I now find what appears to be an offensive acronym as standard terminology. It is very important indeed to get the facts out, thank you Elizabeth etc

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If WASH currently signifies Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, What does WaSH signify for?

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2016-01-06 09:31:28 +0000
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Jun 11 '16