Skip to main content
European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Water, sanitation and hygiene


What is it?

Water, sanitation and hygiene (also known as WASH) are closely connected sectors and essential for good public health. In emergencies and crises, providing access to safe drinking water in sufficient quantities is paramount. Basic sanitation and hygiene education are important for a healthy living environment.

Why is this important?

Every year, 30 million people flee their homes as a result of conflict or disasters, while over 200 million are affected by natural hazards. Very often, in such emergencies, the displaced people lack access to safe, clean water, adequate sanitation and hygiene because water supply and sanitation systems are damaged, destroyed or inexistent. Due to climate change and urbanisation, the number of people without access to safe water is expected to double by 2025, reaching 2 billion people.

Lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation, and low hygiene standards increase the vulnerability to epidemic outbreaks. According to the United Nations, over 700 children under 5 years die of diarrhoea every day, brought about by unsafe water or poor sanitation. WASH, therefore, represents one of the core sectors of humanitarian operations.

How are we helping?

The European Union is one of the largest humanitarian donors of WASH assistance worldwide. It contributes around €200 million each year. This funding ensures timely and dignified access to sufficient and safe water services for populations threatened by humanitarian crises.

The EU increasingly supports projects that incorporate WASH components within other humanitarian sectors, such as health. It also places special emphasis on:

  • enabling quick access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services during a crisis
  • helping to build resilience against crises
  • taking preventive action against water-borne diseases.

Whenever possible, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities are integrated into water supply interventions to reduce the risk of water contamination and water-borne diseases. This approach also ensures that projects are community-led and promote self-sufficiency as part of exit strategies.

The EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department draws its expertise in this area from a network of regional and global WASH and shelter and settlement experts, its country experts, as well as NGOs, the United Nations, and Red Cross partners.

The EU prioritises 3 areas in the field of WASH:

  • Speed of response: the increasing frequency and scale of sudden-onset disasters require better reaction capacities, allowing experts and equipment to be on-site as early as possible. The EU facilitates this by improving logistical support for the humanitarian community.
  • Coordination: a fast response also depends on good coordination, essential for assessing and prioritising needs. The EU is working closely with the Global WASH Cluster - the main international forum, led by UNICEF, for coordinating humanitarian operations in water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.
  • Working with civil protection actors: the complementary roles of humanitarian aid and civil protection are highly important in the WASH sector. For example, growing urban humanitarian WASH needs often require a technically adapted response. This can be provided through civil protection mechanisms, for example, by setting up large-scale water pumps and purification systems to replace water infrastructure damaged in a natural hazard.

Last updated: 04/03/2021

Facts & figures

The number of people without access to safe water is expected to reach 2 billion by 2025

By 2050, demand for water is expected to increase by 55%

Every day, more than 700 children under the age of 5 die of diarrhoea caused by unsafe water or poor sanitation

Around 4 billion people are hit by severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year
(United Nations)