Sustainable water solutions

An ATloo and water tank in Papua New Guinea.

The Oxfam Water for Survival Programme uses technologies that:

  • are affordable
  • are appropriate to local conditions
  • use water efficiently
  • use local materials
  • local communities can operate and maintain in the long term

Deciding which technologies to use depends on a community’s specific needs and the water sources available in the area. 

Often the solution to providing safe drinking water is not complicated – the engineering requires a little know-how, a few materials and a bit of hard work.

Some examples of the technologies used by Oxfam and its partners:

Rainwater harvesting

Collects water from the roof and stores it in a tank. One of the cheapest ways of collecting safe drinking water. Easy to maintain. Most suited to areas with high, even rainfall.


A narrow, deep hole that reaches down to groundwater with a hand pump to draw water to the surface. Useful where rainfall is low and there are no other sources of water. More expensive and complicated to build and maintain but, if constructed well, supply high quality and plentiful water all year round.


A large diameter well about 5 – 10m deep, depending on the depth to the water table. Covered to prevent contamination. Sometimes fitted with a hand pump but usually water is collected using a rope and bucket. Cost effective and easy to maintain but susceptible to contamination from dirty buckets and objects falling in.

Gravity Feed Systems

Water piped from a protected spring or river located above where a community lives. The water flows down to communal taps. While this type of water supply is usually plentiful and of good quality, it is only possible where the water is nearby, otherwise piping will be too expensive. Conflict between landowners at the water source and the end users can sometimes be a concern.

Ferro-cement water tanks

Made using cement reinforced with wire and chicken wire. Use few materials, are easy to construct and more durable than other types of tanks. Keep water cooler. Can be constructed locally, bringing much-needed employment and new trade skills.

Apron and soak pit

Soak pit at Baagi village, India. Photo: RUCHI

An apron is the concrete area surrounding any waterpoint such as a well or tap. It drains water away from the waterpoint, preventing the build up of stagnant water that can attract mosquitoes. The water drains into a soak pit, which is a hole filled with gravel. The soak pit allows water to safely drain into soil where it can nourish the roots of plants and vegetables, making good use of the used water. 

Ventilated pit latrines

The VIP latrine is similar to the pit latrine but has a pipe that takes away smells and insects. Insects are attracted to the top of the pipe, which is covered by a fly screen to stop them getting in.


A specific type of VIP latrine developed by ATprojects, Oxfam’s partner in Papua New Guinea. The ATloo has a pedestal seat rather than a hole and has proven very effective in busy areas such as schools, as they’re much easier to keep clean and cheaper to repair.

Percolation tanks

Catch water in steep areas where runoff is too rapid to allow it to naturally soak into the soil and recharge the levels of groundwater on which many domestic water sources depend.