Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Emergency WASH

© UNICEF/HQ06-0559/Shehzad Noorani
Queuing for water in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people, Darfur, Sudan.

Along with food and shelter, safe water and sanitation are the highest priority interventions in emergency situations. Unless adequate water and sanitation services are quickly provided to emergency-affected children and their families, disease and death will follow. And unless good hygiene is consistently practiced by affected people, the danger of diarrhoea, cholera and other disease outbreaks will persist. This is true in all types of emergencies, from rapid onset natural disasters to long-term crises caused by a range of complex factors.

UNICEF's first-ever WASH project was an emergency intervention: a well drilling operation in drought-affected northern India in 1966. Since then, UNICEF has responded with water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in hundreds of emergencies in countries around the world.

Today, UNICEF is the lead emergency agency in the WASH sector. Guided by its Core Commitments to Children, UNICEF continues to respond directly to emergencies around the world. UNICEF is also responsible for coordinating the overall emergency WASH response as the designated lead agency under the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Cluster approach. In both of these roles, UNICEF is also heavily involved in emergency preparedness planning, and in support to post-emergency reconstruction efforts.

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/HQ07-0634/Giacomo Pirozzi
School latrine in Liberia, part of the UNICEF-supported back to school programme.

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 programme of support in Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other major emergency WASH response programmes in recent years include Lebanon (war), Pakistan (earthquake), Indonesia (earthquake), Horn of Africa (drought), Iraq (war), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (complex emergency), west Africa (conflict), central America (hurricanes) and many others. Over the years, hundreds of millions of people have benefited from UNICEF direct support in emergencies.

Asian Tsunami
The largest-ever UNICEF WASH emergency intervention was in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In a successful programme to restore access to services and prevent the outbreak of disease, UNICEF managed the large-scale distribution of hygiene and safe water kits, hygiene education, water trucking, and the repair and construction of water and sanitation system in camps, communities, schools and health centres. Rapid restoration of  water supplies was critical, and UNICEF interventions reached over a million people in the eight tsunami-affected countries: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The scale of the destruction caused by the tsunami means that the reconstruction effort continues in these countries, with impressive results.

Preparedness Planning
Readiness is of critical importance 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 and preparation of pre-approved contracts with local implementation partners (such as water trucking companies) and suppliers, as well as 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.



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