University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


Christian McMillen

Professor, Corcoran Department of History

483 Nau Hall


"Water Development in the Global South, 1960s to the Present"

Project Summary:  I am in the midst of working on a book on the development of clean water and sanitation for the developing world. As of now I am concentrating on two things: first, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) sponsored International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade that ran from 1978 to 1990. The goal was ambitious: provide 2 billion people, in urban and rural settings, with clean water and adequate sanitation. Never had the water needs of the developing world been so vigorously and systematically attacked. By the end of the Water Decade, the World Bank and the UNDP had become the leaders in water development around world—a position they still hold. Tremendous technological breakthroughs had been achieved and global clean water coverage had increased substantially—though nowhere near the target of water for all. Providing adequate sanitation, on the other hand, had largely failed. Second, I am concerned with the consequences of the Decade’s successes and failures for water and sanitation development in subsequent years. One cannot overstate the Water Decade’s influence on global water history both in terms of its ambition and its legacy. The global community entered the Decade optimistic, committed to equity and improving the world’s health (this was the same period during which the WHO embarked on its Health for All by 2000 campaign and attempted to institute primary health care as the goal of global public health). By the end of the Decade most were chastened, ambitions were tempered, and a new way of evaluating success or failure—cost effective analysis—in public health had come to dominate.

Project Update/Status: To date, I have gathered material from the archives of the World bank and the World Health Organization. In Summer 2016, I began research in India.