Water and Sanitation

Four boys in Varnasi, India, must work hard at the pump for the reward of a refreshing splash of water. Photo by Niharika Bhattaral (The Water Institute at UNC)

Why It Matters  |  What We Are Doing  |  Who Is Involved



Why It Matters

The world is in the throes of an unprecedented water crisis. Only half the world’s households have water at home and 2.6 billion people do not use improved sanitation. Unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene cause an estimated 1.8 million preventable deaths a year, mainly in children. In the U.S. and other industrialized nations, water scarcity and an aging water and sanitation infrastructure are of increasing concern. The impacts of climate change will multiply the future challenges we face.


What We Are Doing

UNC has made an extraordinary commitment to finding solutions to the water and sanitation crisis. Globally, we know that no other single intervention is likely to reduce world poverty more than the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH). Locally, we know that North Carolina and the U.S. face problems of crumbling infrastructure, water shortages, and contamination of groundwater, lakes and rivers.  We recognize that water is a linchpin of public health in the 21st century. In response, the Gillings School has taken our 50-year leadership in water and sanitation to a new level by creating The Water Institute at UNC. We have also led the establishment of “Water in Our World” as a three-year theme for the entire UNC Chapel Hill campus. Read More

Our faculty’s research aims to expand scientific knowledge, improve engineering applications and provide practical guidance to policymakers. Our research focuses on specific technical solutions and on innovations in policy, finance, and entrepreneurship that make business sense and lead to sustainable real-world progress. We are globally recognized for our capacity to identify water-related public health risks and analyze the effectiveness of interventions to prevent waterborne diseases. We provide models and guidance in water safety planning to prevent contamination and protect drinking water from the challenges of severe weather events.  We are leaders in water resource management and sanitation solutions in both industrialized and developing nations, including drinking water and wastewater treatment and remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater.

Our teaching programs utilize a combination of on-site, distance, and hands-on learning to fill the enormous global gap in relevant, accessible training.

We offer policy makers, practitioners, and the public and private sectors a place to turn for balanced, objective and relevant information on water, health and development. We work to ensure that funders and projects in the field benefit from the latest information on effectiveness and impact, and assist organizations in the U.S. and across the globe to evaluate and improve their water, sanitation and hygiene programs.  An annual series of three international conferences bring leaders and practitioners together in Chapel Hill to hear about the latest scientific breakthroughs, learn from each other, and partner to create cutting-edge programs with scale and impact.

Who Is Involved

Our leaders in WaSH come from across the Gilling School, and include our world-class faculty, staff, post-docs and students. This overview only captures a fraction of the important research, teaching, and public service efforts in WaSH at the Gillings School. Please explore the individual leader descriptions to learn more about their work.