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.
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.
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:
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: