European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Water, sanitation and hygiene

What is it?

Water, sanitation  and hygiene (also known as WASH) are closely connected and essential for good public health. In emergency and crisis situations, providing access to clean 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 natural disaster, while over 200 million are affected by natural hazards. Very often, these displaced people lack access to sufficient and adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) during the emergency because 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 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. Every year, 289 000 children under five die of diarrhoeal diseases. WASH therefore represents one of the main sectors of humanitarian operations.

How are we helping?

The European Commission is one of the largest humanitarian donors of WASH assistance worldwide. In 2017, it provided €136 million for projects improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

The European Commission increasingly supports projects which incorporate WASH components within other humanitarian areas, such as nutrition or shelter, 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 their resilience against crises and taking preventive action against water-borne diseases. Whenever possible, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities are integrated into water supply interventions in order 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 European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) draws its expertise in this humanitarian area from a network of regional and global WASH and shelter experts, its country experts as well as its NGO, UN and Red Cross partners.

The European Commission prioritises three areas in the field of WASH:

  • Speed of response: the increasing frequency and scale of sudden onset disasters require better surge capacities that get experts and equipment on site as early as possible. The EC facilitates this through improving logistical support for the humanitarian community.
  • Coordination: a fast response also depends on good coordination, essential for assessing and prioritising needs The Commission provides support to 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, for example, by setting-up large scale water pumps and purification systems to replace water infrastructure damaged in a natural disaster.
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