CRS Clean Water Strategy

Vision 2030: A Water Secure World for All

By 2050, more than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages due to climate change, increased demand, urbanization, pollution and poor resource management. To combat the risks of water insecurity and ensure access to clean water, clean water programs at CRS take a holistic approach to addressing all water needs, for health, well-being, agriculture and production.

Our work considers the water cycle to be one of the fundamental building blocks of life: Rain water infiltrates soils, feeds crops, and recharges groundwater aquifers, ponds, lakes and rivers. Later, these water sources feed human and livestock consumption, as well as industries. We work with communities and governments to understand how we can work together to provide better, more secure access to water for everyone.

We do this across continents via our Water Security Strategy for 2030 (pdf), which focuses on increasing water security across several priority areas: strengthening watershed management under Water in Sustainable Landscapes, improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) under WASH in Humanitarian and Development Contexts, and mobilizing capital and strengthening institutions under Water Finance and Governance.

Flat Climates Mountainous Climates

Communities, individuals, and groups conserve, restore, and sustainably manage their water resources.
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Vulnerable and disaster-affected communities and individuals benefit from equitable, safe, and sustained WASH services to stay healthy, to improve well-being, and to live in safe and dignity- enhancing environments.
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Communities and individuals engage with relevant stakeholders (government, civil society, private sector, and others) to plan, deliver, monitor, and mobilize financing for water resources management and WASH services.
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Water in Sustainable Landscapes

U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 6, or SDG6, advocates for application of the principles of integrated water resources management to achieve economic development, social equity, and environmental sustainability by managing water, land and related resources together.

CRS supports SDG6, recognizing the vital role that water plays for resilience and human development. We work at the nexus of 1) sustainable agriculture, 2) watershed management, and 3) water supply to support governments, partners, communities and all stakeholders. CRS adopts and applies integrated, improved and gender-responsive land and water resource management for more resilient and equitable agriculture systems and improved water security.  


We promote and apply water- and climate-smart agriculture practices, deploying soil restoration and agriculture techniques that maximize water efficiency and productivity at both farm and landscape scales, while emphasizing and advocating for investment in rain-fed agriculture systems.

We support investments in nature-based solutions (e.g. increasing “green” water) to improve water retention in the soil, to stabilize and restore land, and ultimately, to increase the flow of water through systems that support human development. We convene stakeholders to collectively assess watershed health, identify critical areas of intervention and generate funds to provide truly sustainable solutions that increase production, improve water for human health and mitigate climate change.


WASH in Humanitarian and Development Contexts

In humanitarian contexts, our WASH programming strives to respond to the immediate- and longer- term needs of affected populations in gender-responsive and equitable ways. Our interventions complement or integrate with other sectorial programming such as shelter, health, nutrition and livelihoods.

In development contexts, our WASH work includes gender-responsive stand-alone activities, such as municipal sanitation and community water service delivery, as well as multi-sectoral programs in which WASH components contribute to other objectives like nutrition, health, livelihood or food security, all in support of achieving U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 6, or SDG6. In water, we work towards universal, equitable and sustainable access to safe and affordable drinking water services. In sanitation, we target universal and sustainable access to improved facilities and services (including safe management of human excreta, wastewater, vector control and solid waste) along the chain from containment to disposal or transformation, treatment and reuse. We are tackling these needs in communities, households and in key institutions like health facilities and schools.

Though CRS has traditionally focused on rural food security, livelihoods and socio-economic development, increasingly our WASH efforts use an urban migration lens to help achieve SDG6. WASH service provision in secondary cities, peri-urban settlements and slums is a core part of our work in both humanitarian and development programs.


In humanitarian contexts, CRS:

  1. coordinates and aligns with Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability, the Sphere Project’s Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, CRS’ protection mainstreaming guidelines, CRS’ minimum standards for mainstreaming gender equality, global/national WASH cluster standards, and local codes and regulations;
  2. influences WASH and water security policies and practices;
  3. prioritizes social and gender equity, dignity and protection;
  4. mitigates against possible negative unintended consequences, including gender-based violence;
  5. deploys market-based approaches where and when appropriate;
  6. engages and communicates with affected communities, peer actors and national institutions with relevant information;
  7. invests in WASH information management and sharing systems;
  8. invests in WASH monitoring and accountability systems;
  9. mainstreams WASH disaster risk reduction approaches within multi-sectoral preparedness plans that support populations to develop resilient WASH solutions, including outbreak preparedness; and
  10. deploys a water-security lens across all WASH interventions, in recognition that environmental degradation and sustainable natural resource management are increasingly critical issues in emergencies for both affected and host communities.

In development contexts, CRS:

  1. prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, including women and girls and people with disabilities;
  2. addresses the requisite hygiene practices required to achieve health gains;
  3. engages and gives agency to all stakeholders—including government, civil society, private sector (for market-based solutions), communities, individuals, etc.—to plan for and deliver sustainable outcomes;
  4. supports systems strengthening, improved governance and coordination across sectors;
  5. installs appropriate and sustainable infrastructure and services; and
  6. supports government policies, strategies and plans related to water security.


Water Finance and Governance

Because water is a public good, ensuring sustainable water security requires systems change—fostering an enabling environment, and supporting governments and local institutions to manage their own resources effectively. In Laudato Sí’, Pope Francis cites the necessity to foster policies and institutions that address issues holistically.  However, good water governance is not just about institutions—it also requires social capital, and increased voice and agency of traditionally disadvantaged groups to enable communities to resolve problems related to public goods.  For CRS and our partners, water governance is our entry point for systems strengthening and scale.

In parallel to requisite systems change, we recognize the enormous gap in financing required to meet U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 6, or SDG6. In 2016, the World Bank estimated this need at $1.7 trillion. At the same time, official development assistance, or ODA, equated to less than 20% of that amount. Consequently, CRS recognizes the enormous need to access non-ODA financing to meet SDG6.

Ultimately, water governance and finance mobilization are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. CRS and its partners work to expand and replicate successful models that integrate governance and financing for water security (e.g., Azure, Water Funds, etc.) while also identifying new models (e.g., leveraging remittance capital) that can catalyze change at scale and improve the enabling environment (e.g. strengthening institutions and accountability) for sustainable landscapes and WASH.

Water programming at CRS incorporates a variety of approaches designed to advocate for and support accountability, responsiveness, gender equity, transparency in institutions and participation by communities. We carry out this work at watershed and landscape scales, working with multiple stakeholders impacted by water resource use across a range of rural and urban contexts.

To help address the gap in funding needed to achieve SDG6, CRS catalyzes and mobilizes diverse financial resources to reduce water scarcity, extending beyond conventional, grant-based fundraising to achieve impact at scale. Funding from a variety of sources, including individuals, communities, the private sector, and both local and national governments, are combined with and supported by traditional aid and philanthropy through diverse funding vehicles like social-impact investment funds, guarantees, pay-for-success mechanisms and green bonds.

For more information about CRS’ Water Security Strategy for 2030, please download our strategy overview (pdf) or our full strategy (pdf). You can also contact us at [email protected].