Our allies talk shit

Here we include links to where our WASH and development allies have talked about failures – please let us know if there’s something we should add!

Case studies of WASH failures

Twalet Total: Insights from launching (and failing) a sanitation start-up in Haïti in 2020

Stop the rot: handpump functionality, corrosion, component quality and supply chains

Compilation of common WASH failures, by FLUSH

Storytelling Compilation: Failure in WASH, What Have We Learned?

MAPET manual pit-latrine emptying technology project

Inefficient technology or misperceived demand: the failure of Vacutug-based pit-emptying services in Bangladesh

The PlayPump: What Went Wrong?

Failures of water supply and sanitation systems (Wikipedia page – please add your own!)


WTF!? (Waste.Treatment.Failing.)

A sit with Euphresia on Water and Diversity in its Leadership (part of the RWSN blog series)

WASHaholics Blog

Want to improve development outcomes? Anticipate the failures. Here’s how

The road to hell is paved with good intentions – and broken toilets

What doesn’t kill you: let’s talk about failure

How to take the right risks in international development

Development Malpractice In Ghana

When it comes to water access we keep doing the same thing. And failing

Can ‘admitting failure’ help the WASH sector learn and improve its work?


I Tried to Save the World and Failed (reflects on time and effort to find rural water solutions in Mexico, Malawi and Cambodia that could be used everywhere)

Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Failures: Lessons Learned from Cautionary Tales (includes a great introduction to different types of failure and failure terminology)

Aid on the Edge of Chaos (the title is pretty self explanatory…)

Watering White Elephants? Lessons from donor funded planning and implementation of rural water supplies in Tanzania (have we learned nothing since 1988?)


EWB Canada Failure Reports and Fail Forward initiative

Learning from failure: lessons for the sanitation sector


Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

What happens when an NGO admits failure

Journal articles


Achieving development outcomes by building practical authority in WASH participatory collectives in Melanesia (discusses the failure of checklists in development projects and rethinks participation as a political process)

Amplifying diverse voices and decolonising knowledge production in WASH (a guidance note to improve awareness of issues in recognition in authorship, and outlines principles and practices that elevate voices from lower- and middle-income countries in knowledge production)


A Qualitative Study of NIMBYism for Waste in Smaller Urban Areas of a Low-Income Country, Mzuzu, Malawi (discusses a lack of community engagement in developing solid waste sites in Malawi)

Acknowledging and Learning from Different Types of Failure (discusses how we can learn from failures in environmental and public health and embed these lessons into our organisations)

Assessment of Decontamination and Reuse of Disposable Filter Funnels Used in Microbiological Water Quality Tests (discusses how plastic waste from water quality testing creates landfill, but there currently is no reliable method for reusing plastic filters without impacting on measurement quality)

Experiences of menstruation in high income countries: a systematic review, qualitative evidence synthesis and comparison to low- and middle-income countries (discusses how society has failed those who menstruate in high income countries)

Failure of the “Gold Standard”: The Role of a Mixed Methods Research Toolkit and Human-Centered Design in Transformative WASH (discusses how randomised controlled trials fail to capture the full complexity of WASH interventions within multi-sectoral systems

Leadership for SDG 6.2: Is Diversity Missing? (discusses the lack of diversity in senior levels of WASH organisations)

Lessons in Failure: Applying an Organizational Learning Framework to Understanding Attitudes Towards Failure in Development (discusses how we can learn from failures in environmental and public health and embed these lessons into our organisations)

Measuring the prevalence of urinary incontinence in children aged five to 12 in an emergency setting: lessons learned in Tukaley, Ethiopia (discusses how an interactive tool was unable to measure urinary incontinence prevalence directly, but how other measures may indicate continence concerns)

Optimized and Non-Optimized Personal Protective Equipment Use during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Thailand: A National Cross-Sectional Survey in a Resource-Limited Setting (discusses the improper use of proper personal protective equipment to prevent COVID spread in Thailand)

Potential Pitfalls in Wastewater Phosphorus Analysis and How to Avoid Them (discusses why better standard procedures are needed for measuring phosphorous in wastewater)


Sustainable sanitation jobs: prospects for enhancing the livelihoods of pit-emptiers in Bangladesh (discusses some of the failures in programmes attempting to improve the lives of pit-emptiers)


Social Science and Medicine: Sanitation marketing: a systematic review and theoretical critique using the capability approach (discusses various failures of the traditional ‘sanitation marketing’ approach)


An untold story of policy failure: the Total Sanitation Campaign in India