How to Wash Your Hands Without Running Water: World Hand Hygiene Day 2024


Wednesday, May 1st, 2024

As camping enthusiasts will tell you, washing your hands without running water takes some thought and practice. In honor of the upcoming World Hand Hygiene Day 2024 on May 5th, we’re showing you how handwashing is done in regions without water readily available at home. 

Handwashing, as you might already have learned during a certain global pandemic, is imperative for preventing illnesses. 

Proper handwashing education in a community has been shown to reduce cases of diarrhea by 23-40% and respiratory illnesses by 16-21%.

CDC

But where people don’t have clean water, it’s much more difficult to wash your hands effectively than those who have always lived with running water may realize. In sub-Saharan Africa, only about 39% of the urban population and 19% of the rural population have running water. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that the act of handwashing in countries like Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Uganda is often a challenge that demands both creativity and resourcefulness. 

In areas where water is scarce, people have to walk long distances to procure it. The longer they have to walk, the less water they’re likely to be able to collect in one day. Ultimately, this means some households can’t spare enough for handwashing — not when weighing the decision between washing their hands and watering crops. Thankfully, this changes when communities gain better access to water through a new water project.

With each water source The Water Project implements, we conduct hygiene and sanitation training to reinforce health lessons and provide locally available ways for people to keep themselves and their environments clean. As such, we’ve become experts in handwashing without running water available.

Handy Handwashing Stations

Some schools and health centers have devices called Veronica buckets, which sport their own gravity-fed spigots. This solution is similar to a traditional sink that can be turned on or off, except it needs refilling and cleaning on a regular basis to ensure it’s both sanitary and ready for the next user.

A Veronica bucket at a school in Southeast Kenya.

Another handwashing innovation is the tippy tap, a simple yet effective handwashing station made from sticks, string, and a plastic container (which we explain how to construct in our free lesson plans for teachers!). 

A tippy tap operates via foot control, allowing users to release a small amount of water by tipping the container without touching it, thereby avoiding inadvertent contamination. This design also minimizes water use, which is critical in areas where water is precious.

A community member steps on a tippy tap in Uganda to release a trickle of water that rinses her hands.

Another resourceful solution we incorporate into our hygiene and sanitation trainings in some areas is the leaky tin, a perforated container that is filled with water and suspended at a convenient height. Water users construct leaky tins by poking a small hole in a plastic container with something small and sharp like a nail, then replacing the nail to plug the hole and stem the water’s flow when the handwashing station isn’t in use. The small hole near the bottom of the container produces a controlled stream of water, sufficient for handwashing but economical in its flow. 

A boy in Western Kenya washes his hands under a leaky tin.

Conclusion

Handwashing is easy, but its effective implementation requires accessibility, education, and community engagement. Even in places where water flows readily from faucets, it’s hard to get people to wash their hands as long or as often as needed. 

Ingenuity is crucial in promoting hygiene where resources are scarce—but innovation alone isn’t enough. These communities need your support to prevent water-related diseases. Your donation can directly contribute to installing more handwashing stations, training more communities in hygiene best practices, and ultimately reducing disease spread in areas hardest hit by water scarcity.

Let’s honor this day by ensuring that everyone, no matter where they are in the world, has access to the simple yet life-saving practice of handwashing.

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Jamie Heminway

Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).