A question for Alanna Imbach ('05), international clean water advocate

What has surprised you the most about international clean water and hygiene issues?

If someone would have told me 11 years ago (when I graduated from Western in Political Science) that I’d wind up working in the ‘WASH’ sector—water, sanitation and hygiene—I would have laughed. I knew nothing about water, and cared even less about toilets or hygiene.

But my career led me to a position at the United Nations World Food Programme, where I had a real ‘ah-ha’ moment. Here we were delivering all of this food assistance to refugees and people suffering from a lack of nutritious food, and yet—without clean water and a basic things like soap, the food just goes straight through you. People continue to suffer from diarrheal disease and undernutrition. That’s when I really started to understand how essential clean water is to eradicating extreme poverty. It’s not just about the water. It’s about health, education, jobs, women’s empowerment, nutrition, the environment and so much more.

What’s surprised me the most is realizing that the global water and sanitation crisis is a women’s issue. More than anyone else, women and girls are the ones who lose out on the chance to attend school, pursue paid work or care for their families because they’re out collecting water. Women and girls are the ones who care for their family members when they get sick from contaminated water; and women and girls are the ones who are harassed and even raped when looking for a private place to ’go’. Realizing that we have the tools and resources to change this is incredibly motivating.



Alanna Imbach (Political Science), the media relations manager for WaterAid, traveled to Nepal with journalists who were reporting on the state of water and sanitation access one year after the devastating 2015 earthquakes.