European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Water, sanitation, and hygiene

A safe water point in Kalemie, south Kivu, eastern Congo. Murals are used to pass hygiene messages to users. © European Union/ECHO/Damien Blanc

Why is this important?

Every year, 30 million people flee their home as a result of conflict or natural disaster, while over 200 million are affected by natural hazards. Very often these people lack access to water, sanitation and hygiene, (also known as WASH) during the emergency when water supply and sanitation systems are damaged or destroyed. Due to climate change and urbanisation, the number of people without access to safe water is expected to nearly double by 2025, reaching 2 billion people.

Lack of access to clean water and to basic sanitation and low hygiene standards increase the vulnerability of populations to epidemic outbreaks. Between 1.8 and 2.2 million people die every year of diarrheal diseases (90% of whom are children under five). WASH therefore represents one of main sectors of humanitarian operations.

How are we helping?

The European Commission is one of the largest humanitarian donors of WASH assistance worldwide. In 2016, it released over €150 million for projects providing water, sanitation and hygiene.

The Commission increasingly supports projects which incorporate WASH components within other sectors, such as nutrition or shelter, in order to increase effectiveness. It also places special emphasis on enabling endangered populations to have quick access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, helping to build up their resilience against crises and taking preventive action against water-borne diseases. Water supply projects, wherever possible, are integrated with sanitation and hygiene promotion actions in order to reduce the risk of water contamination and disease, and to ensure that projects are community-led and self-sufficient.

The Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) draws its expertise in this sector of assistance from a network of seven regional and global WASH and shelter experts, its country experts as well as its NGO, UN and Red Cross partners. ECHO provides support to the Global WASH Cluster - the main international forum, led by UNICEF, for coordinating humanitarian operations in water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.

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