Center for International Water and Sustainability

About the Center for International Water and Sustainability

DRI’s Center for International Water and Sustainability (CIWAS) was founded in 2013 to support and expand on DRI’s multi-disciplinary work in international water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and on environmental resource management over the last two decades.

Because CIWAS is uniquely situated –a center with deep WASH knowledge located at an environmental research institute– the Center is able to align a broad range of multidisciplinary talent for capacity-building projects and research. Through CIWAS’ work, DRI achieves its broader science for humanity mission of “increasing scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth’s environment, promoting preservation of diverse ecosystems, advancing responsible resource management, and improving human health and welfare.”

Globally, 2 billion people still lack access to safe water and 3.6 billion live without access to improved sanitation, with 122 million people still collecting drinking water directly from surface water sources (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme 2021). Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a report released in August 2018. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 aims to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water with adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, end open defecation, pay special attention to the needs of women and girls, and those in vulnerable situations by 2030.


The overall vision of CIWAS is to grow DRI’s capacity to provide both information and technical capacity to government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and funders working to identify and solve problems related to human health and management of environmental resources, especially water. Offering efficient and sustainable WASH and environmental solutions can be accomplished through the effective use of technology, using the latest methods and equipment, raising public awareness of WASH issues, and the transfer of knowledge and information through professional development training and capacity building.

Objectives Past Programs

CIWAS’ four main objectives support DRI’s goals of addressing gaps in knowledge, research, and human resource capacity related to WASH and water resource management that persist in developing nations, and to support attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 6, universal access to safe water and sanitation:

  1. Undertake capacity building activities on WASH and environmental management issues focused specifically on challenges in the developing world.
  2. Engage in interdisciplinary, applied environmental research focused on addressing WASH and environmental issues specific to developing countries.
  3. Develop and disseminate relevant information to enhance human development and environmental science in developing countries.
  4. Provide consulting services to funders, governments and international NGOs on the technical aspects of WASH interventions and environmental resource management.

CIWAS leverages DRI’s extensive expertise in environmental sciences to conduct interdisciplinary research and provide technical capacity to universities, NGOs and governments working to identify and solve problems related to human health and management of environmental resources. Significant gaps in knowledge and research related to global WASH persist and continue to impede developing countries efforts to develop.  Addressing these gaps requires researchers from a variety of disciplines.  CIWAS’ research and capabilities go well beyond WASH and include:

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) capabilities include:

  • Developing and teaching custom-made short and long-term capacity building courses for local WASH and environmental professionals in developing countries. Courses cover cross-cutting sectors such as health, agriculture, micro-finance, environment, climate change etc.
  • Training on long-term sustainability of WASH services using the Circuit Rider Methodology
  • Conducting action research and country-wide WASH landscaping.
  • Data and knowledge management
  • Brokering, managing and hosting complex international partnerships
  • WASH project/program assessment and design
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning
  • Use of modern technology (satellite imagery and geophysics) to locate sites for well drilling
  • Assess remotely-sensed imagery as a tool to help map groundwater favorability for drilling show/manual wells
  • Managing water quality issues in developing countries


  • Watersheds, surface water and ecological modeling
  • Development of integrated watershed science tools to facilitate informed decision-making for sustainable management of watersheds
  • Facilitation of the development of interdisciplinary teams that address watershed science, planning and restoration to provide the information needed for understanding the behavior of watersheds in a planning and management policy context
  • Groundwater flow and transport modeling
  • Water quality monitoring
  • Plant/ecosystem ecology
  • Threatened and endangered species
  • Cataloguing of available historical information from sources including; river/rain gauges; geological and hydrogeological surveys; soil and vegetation surveys
  • Cataloguing available gridded/estimated data sets for potential use in data-sparse areas
  • Evaluating and recommending potential models for use, ranging from MS Excel spreadsheets to highly coded models such as PRMS
  • Evaluation of natural recharge in micro-watersheds and identifying effective ways of conducting artificial groundwater recharge into aquifers.
  • Determination of optimal sites for rainwater catchment systems to increase water supplies

Water Quality

  • Increasing the analytical capacity of developing countries’ water quality labs through staff training and assessment of protocols and inter-laboratory comparisons
  • Assessment of surface and ground water quality
  • Water capture, storage, treatment and reuse
  • Conventional drinking water and wastewater plant design, evaluation and improvement/scale-up
  • Development and scaling-up of non-conventional, cost-effective water disinfection processes

Climate Change

  • Climate/climatology (data analysis, summary and display, and modeling of local, regional and global scale)
  • Assessments of relevant hydroclimate variability modes
  • Utilization of data to explore climate variability issues and natural resource management
  • Provision of climate data and information to public and private clients
  • Historical climate trends and regional climate modeling
  • Ability to develop instrumentation and techniques for ground-based, aircraft and satellite observation programs

GIS, Remote Sensing, Data Analytics, and UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Drones 

  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Remote sensing/Image processing
  • Invasive species monitoring
  • Alternative futures analysis
  • Desert terrain characterization
  • Innovations in applied data visualization and computational analysis, translating scientific ideas into practical, market-based solutions.
  • Analyzing information for QA/QC and trends with novel methods
  • UAS Research at DRI

Climate Change, Water and Agriculture

  • Atmospheric products for hydroclimate variability and climate change projections at relevant scales, including regional climate modeling, statistical downscaling products, and scale ready products for impact applications such as hydrologic, agriculture, ecosystem, and economic models
  • Development of adaptive water management strategies in light of climate change to ensure water remains available for multiple uses over time
  • Development of customized toolkits that offer step-by-step guidance for integrating climate change adaptation into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of water, agriculture and other development projects
  • Assistance in understanding the water consumption patterns of certain crops, and introducing low-cost, small-scale irrigation technologies that use minimum quantities of water in arid regions
  • Research and recommendations on crop alternatives or hybrids in light of climate change to ensure food security over time
  • Development of fast and versatile methods for monitoring agricultural drought over broad areas at risk of food insecurity
  • Increase understanding of the processes associated with land degradation and development of strategies to mitigate them

CIWAS has many ongoing programs and completed projects that further the Center’s mission to increase technical capacity and provide research and training support to improve the long-term sustainability of WASH interventions in developing countries.  Programs include:

WASH Capacity Building Program 

In developing countries, insufficient human-resource capacity related to WASH remains one of the most significant barriers to providing effective and sustainable services. In most developing countries, there are large, experienced international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that operate in the WASH sector, but the local field staff often lack the necessary technical human-resource capacity to effectively implement WASH interventions. To help NGOs and governments address these human -resource capacity needs, DRI, Drexel University, and University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) are collaborating to provide technical capacity training and action research to field staff across Africa through a series of competency-based modules. Courses are taught through a hybrid model of online instruction complemented by face-to-face teaching sessions and field research. Faculty from African universities are engaged as guest lecturers with an objective to build the capacity of local higher education institutions to deliver the training needing for sustainable WASH service provision.


University for Development Studies and DRI Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Center. DRI signed a memorandum of understanding with the University for Development Studies (UDS) in Northern Ghana to establish a first-in-the-region WASH Center at UDS.  Through the Center, DRI and UDS are working to address important research, knowledge and technical capacity gaps related to WASH and water resource management specific to West Africa.  In January 2019, DRI and UDS cohosted the second international conference through the WASH Center:  Sustainable WASH and Water Security: Successes, Lessons Learned and the Way Forward

International Circuit Rider Program 

The majority of rural communities throughout the developing world struggle to provide a consistent and safe water supply due to lack of funding and qualified staff, as well as week governance, poor tariff settings, and the lack of an effective supply chain for spare parts and supplies. The Circuit Rider program, hosted by DRI, is a proven simple and cost-effective model to increase the sustainability of rural WASH systems. In the Circuit Rider model a small group of qualified WASH technicians rotate through a circuit of communities providing advice and training to local operators on issues of sustainability, governance, treatment technologies, operations, and maintenance. To further build local capacity for sustainable WASH systems, CIWAS is providing capacity building on long-term sustainability of WASH services using the Circuit Rider methodology in priority CIWAS countries. Currently, the Circuit Rider methodology is being implemented in Ghana. Past Circuit Rider Models were implemented in central Chile as well as in Honduras.

WASH in Healthcare Facilities (HCFs) Project

The WASH in HCFs Project consists of designing a tool or model to help field staff at the HCF level be able to operate, maintain, and repair their WASH systems to ensure long term sustainability. The 2015 WHO (World Health Organization) report indicates that health care associated infections affect hundreds of millions of patients every year, with 15% of patients estimated to develop one or more infections during a hospital stay. CIWAS is collaborating with Transform International to pilot the project in Northern Malawi. In June 2019, Dr. Braimah Apambire participated in a WASH in healthcare facilities stakeholders meeting to kick off a process of securing commitments through 2019. The event was co-hosted by Global Water 2020 and the Global Health Council. This was a very successful meeting with more than 120 participants and 78 commitments. Since then, DRI and Transform International in partnership with DAMARA, a local NGO, have implemented the project in Rumphi district in Malawi since 2019. DRI and Transform International committed to building long-term sustainability of WASH services in healthcare facilities by focusing on strengthening local capacity, as well as developing monitoring, evaluation, resolution, and learning (MERL) frameworks. Building on our experience with the Circuit Rider methodology, we aim to develop, test, and share guidelines that can be used by the facilities and local governments to provide a system for the ongoing operation and maintenance of WASH services.

Fluoride Removal Technology Project

CIWAS is collaborating with DRI faculty Dr. Erick Bandala and his team in researching the use of Moringa Oleifera (MO) seed extract with electrocoagulation (EC) technology as a cheap methodology for water defluoridation in rural communities in developing countries. MO is naturally available in developing countries and PV solar panels can be used to avoid dependence on the electric grid and promote the use of EC. So far, laboratory results are encouraging. However, additional research is being conducted to explore the real potential of using the MO/EC system for water defluoridation, identify the best process conditions, and assess the feasibility of continuous drinking water treatment in the field.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful Algal Blooms are the rapid and uncontrolled accumulation of algae in freshwater or marine ecosystems, which can produce toxins destructive to humans and the environment. DRI/CIWAS collaborated with the Ghana Water Company Limited and the Ghana Standards Authority to establish the presence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the water supply funded by the Ghana Water Company Limited to the cities of Accra and Kumasi. CIWAS in partnership with Dr. Alan Heyvaert completed the first phase of an algal bloom studies on four large water reservoirs/system in Ghana. Discussions are being held to design the second phase of the program.

Indoor Air Pollution in Ghana

According to the World Bank the majority of the Ghanaian population relies on biomass (wood, charcoal, dung and crop residue) for cooking, causing high concentrations of smoke and carbon dioxide in traditional homes. Worldwide, the burning of solid fuels is thought to be the largest source of indoor air pollution. Soot from indoor biomass burning causes more than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under age 5 and 3.8 million premature deaths annually due to diseases including stroke, heart diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. CIWAS is collaborating with government and NGOs in Ghana to address this issue.  CIWAS has assembled a highly qualified team of scientists and analysts from across DRI that have participated in many major air quality studies over the past few decades. Projects have included sample collection and analysis, quality assurance, data validation, data management, and subsequent data interpretation and reporting, and this experience will help DRI support Ghana in addressing this critical public health challenge.

Ghana Illegal Mining Project

In December 2018, DRI welcomed Ghana Delegates – Mr. Kiston Akomeng Kissi and Mr. Musah Fuseini-Codjoe from the Governing Board of the Precious Minerals and Marketing Company (PMMC). DRI faculty met with the delegates to discuss illegal gold mining in Ghana and how DRI can help to address mining issues in the country.

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) has a long history of supporting foundations, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) addressing development challenges in Ghana.

Since 1991, DRI has provided technical training and research to water project staff in West Africa in:

(1) the use of appropriate groundwater exploration methods and techniques to increase the success rates of water well drilling,

(2) water quality analysis and interpretation of results,

(3) the investigation of the use of local geomaterials to treat contaminated water,

(4) the development and use of hydrogeological and water quality data management systems, and

(5) the training of staff through short courses and hands on experience at DRI and graduate degree programs at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR)

DRI’s first efforts in Ghana were in partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and World Vision. The partnership was focused on a shared commitment to alleviate the suffering from Guinea worm infection on millions of rural Ghanaians through provision of safe, sustainable water supply. In the early 1990’s, Ghana’s Greater Afram Plains (GAP) was characterized by remote location and difficult terrain where safe drinking water, improved sanitation, and basic hygiene (WASH) services were virtually non-existent.  The lack of safe water coupled with the absence of improved sanitation and hygiene facilities, meant water-borne diseases, including the devastating Guinea worm, were rampant across the plains.

DRI developed techniques to explore the presence of groundwater using remote sensing technology, geophysics, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These techniques were used to improve drilling success rates for hand pump wells that led to broad-scale safe water access and the eradication of Guinea worm throughout the Greater Afram Plains.  DRI’s work  also grew to include critical water quality improvements, including analysis and research into the use of local materials to treat water. With the lessons learned in Ghana, DRI expanded the projects with the Hilton Foundation, World Vision and other NGOs into Mali and Niger.

Major Achievements

  • Contribution towards the eradication of Guinea worm in Afram Plains of Ghana
  • Contribution to the elimination of trachoma in Ghana, in partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, government and other NGOs.
  • Support to World Vision Ghana on water sample analysis, treatment and building of a state-of-the-art water quality laboratory in Savelugu in northern Ghana.
  • Conducted watershed studies to evaluate the sustainability of water resources in northern Ghana due to increasing use of groundwater, decreasing rainfall, and climate change.
  • Building the capacity of staff in in hydrogeological and related fields through short training courses in West Africa and the US and through graduate programs at DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Other Achievements

  • Since 2014 the WASH Capacity Building Program has successfully certified 203 students from 32 countries across Africa, and Asia Pacific. As of 2023, Cohort 8 has 40 students participating in courses that are taught in a hybrid format combining face-to-face instruction and fieldwork with online instruction from 21 countries in Africa and Asia Pacific.
  • DRI/CIWAS partnered with UNICEF in efforts to end the deadly Ebola outbreak in Liberia by helping provide clean water to health centers across the country and complete a water quality study. DRI/CIWAS hosted training workshops for government personnel to increase staff capacity for the long-term sustainability of water quality efforts.
  • DRI/CIWAS collaborated with the Ghana Water Company Limited and the Ghana Standards Authority to research a presence of algal toxins in the water supply. CIWAS worked with DRI scientists and the Government of Ghana to develop a program to address harmful algal blooms (HABs). HABs are the rapid and uncontrolled accumulation of algae in freshwater or marine ecosystems, which can produce toxins destructive to humans and the environment. CIWAS in partnership with Dr. Alan Heyvaert completed the first phase of an algal bloom studies on four large water reservoirs/system in Ghana. The second phase of the program is being developed.

Past Programs and Projects

Universities WASH Network

CIWAS is the host of the Universities WASH Network. The Network’s mission is to increase communication and coordination among universities in the United States and their international counterparts engaged in global WASH and provide opportunities for collaborative learning to stakeholders around the world. The Network’s mission is to increase human resource capacity for WASH in developing countries through integrated education and research programs. These programs provide the evidence base, training, and advocacy to empower governments, NGOs and other stakeholders in communities and countries of greatest need to achieve universal access to safe, affordable, and sustainable drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene.

DRI-Liberia Program

DRI worked with the Liberian government to increase their capacity for sustainable WASH service provision for improved public health outcomes. A period of recovery and resiliency building was instituted following Liberia’s Ebolafree declaration UNICEF Liberia’s response addressed gaps in WASH in health facilities, as well as in some communities identified during the Ebola response. DRI was selected to partner with UNICEF to undertake hydrogeological/geophysical investigations and surveys for the siting, drilling and supervision of boreholes in selected health care facilities. DRI also worked with WHO and the Ministry of Health (Liberia), to host a workshop to build the capacity of the Liberian government on water quality monitoring and support the government in developing the country’s water quality standards and baseline water quality.

CIWAS, CRS, and UDS Menstrual Hygiene Project

CIWAS partnered with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the University for Development Studies (UDS) in Ghana to support CRS’s Integrated Sanitation, Hygiene, and Nutrition for Education (I-SHINE) project in 138 communities in Northern Ghana. The focus of the project was to encourage school attendance by improving WASH facilities and behaviors. CIWAS staff and students from the UNR Students’ Association for International Water Issues led field research to better understand constraints to school attendance amongst girls during their menstruation.  A public event was also held in Ghana to share findings and results with other stakeholders.




Braimah Apambire, Ph.D.
Program Director


Desert Research Institute
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Hydrologic Sciences