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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

WASH in emergencies

© UNICEF/UN012739/Sokhin
Lomaloma, Vanua Balavu, Lau Group, Fiji. With Vika Waradi UNICEF Pacific. Category 5 Cyclone Winston, the strongest cyclone to ever hit Fiji and with some of the highest wind speeds at landfall ever recorded globally, severely affected around 40% of the population.

Water and sanitation, along with food and shelter, are the most important human needs in an emergency.

Without water, people will die or move on in search of it. At times of crisis, children are more susceptible to illness and death from diseases that are often caused by lack of sanitation, inadequate safe water and poor hygiene. Without access to basic water and sanitation services, and without the practice of good hygiene, the danger of diarrhoea, cholera and other disease outbreaks is high.

UNICEF works to provide clean water, basic toilets and to encourage basic hygiene practices in emergencies around the world. Last year alone, UNICEF’s emergency responses benefited 18 million people with clean water and 4 million people with improved sanitation.

UNICEF’s work in emergencies
UNICEF is the lead agency providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene emergency needs today. Guided by its Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action, UNICEF continues to respond directly to emergencies around the world and coordinates multi-agency WASH efforts as part of the “cluster approach”. This work spans from emergency preparedness planning to post-emergency reconstruction.

Emergency response
Emergencies affect children around the world, and UNICEF responds with a package of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions. Response programmes range from rapid and limited interventions in acute emergencies – such as the distribution of water purification tablets and family water kits during floods and earthquakes – to comprehensive long-term interventions in complex emergencies, such as the ongoing planning and policy support in Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Preparedness planning
Being prepared is crucial when disaster strikes in risk-prone countries, and emergency- preparedness planning is an important part of the UNICEF programme of support. Country preparedness activities include:

  • Planning for emergency staff deployment
  • Pre-positioning of strategic supplies
  • Preparation of pre-approved contracts with local implementation partners (such as water trucking companies) and suppliers
  • Advance coordination arrangements with government partners and other stakeholders through the cluster approach.

UNICEF’s longstanding partnership with governments means that it is often invited to participate in the development of national preparedness plans and policies.

Emergency coordination
UNICEF is the global lead agency for the WASH sector under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) cluster approach. Launched in 2005, the cluster approach addresses gaps in response and enhances the quality of humanitarian assistance by strengthening partnerships and coordination between UN agencies, the Red Cross/Crescent movement, international organizations and NGOs.

In emergencies where the cluster approach is applied, UNICEF leads national coordination efforts. When employed, the cluster approach successfully enhanced coordination and emergency response and ultimately linked partners in expanded partnerships for non-emergency programme collaboration.

The scale of the UNICEF emergency WASH programme has expanded significantly in recent years, now accounting for half of all UNICEF WASH expenditures worldwide.


UNICEF Emergencies website

WASH in Humanitarian Action Annual Report

Core Commitments for Children In Humanitarian Action

IASC website

WASH Cluster Website

© Source: MICS and DHS surveys from 25 sub-Saharan African countries Distribution of the water collection burden among women, children under age 15 and men in households without piped water on premises, 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 2006-2009 (per cent)



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