Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

During an emergency, access to potable water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene products is often severely compromised, exposing people to risk of contracting waterborne and communicable diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea, as well as increasing the risk of violence for women and children. These risks are often further exacerbated by the high concentration of people in an emergency context. WASH interventions are usually one of the highest priorities following the onset of any crisis, whether sudden or protracted, following a natural disaster or complex situation.

Applying a participatory approach ensuring community ownership is crucial for the effective implementation of a WASH programme. We will always aim to ensure that design and installations reflect local cultural norms to make sure that people will use and maintain the installations. Furthermore, WASH infrastructure should always be constructed in a manner that allows access for people with disabilities. Given the synergies with other emergency sectors, DRC should also strive to implement WASH as part of an integrated programme.

In many cultural contexts women and girls are especially affected by the WASH situation as access to water, sanitary and hygienic installations directly affect their daily work and general mobility. The lack of facilities to support menstrual hygiene needs can compromise their ability to act in the public sphere. Mainstreaming gender and protection in WASH is thus essential from the outset. Women and girls should be involved in the design and implementation of WASH projects to ensure the health of the entire community.


WASH interventions in emergencies

The objective of WASH in emergencies is to maintain the health, dignity, and protection of the affected population by ensuring access to adequate potable water, a proper excreta disposal, run-off and waste water disposal, and effective vector control.

In the emergency phase, key aspects of DRC’s WASH programming include:

  • Undertaking independent or interagency needs assessments focused on needs and vulnerabilities. A useful list of cluster-aligned WASH indicators is available from the OCHA managed Indicator Registry.
  • Provision of water for drinking, cooking and other essential hygiene purposes through:
    • Rehabilitation of existing wells/boreholes and/or installation/replacement of pumps on existing wells/boreholes
    • Construction of wells/boreholes
    • Distribution of water purification tablets
    • Water network installation
    • Rehabilitation/creation of dams or sand dams
    • Water trucking (emergency/last resort)
  • Construction of latrines and shower/washing facilities
  • Distribution of hygiene kits including buckets, jerry cans, containers for water for washing, soap, laundry detergent, cleaning items, female dignity kits etc.
  • Hygiene awareness campaigns/hygiene promotion based on observations by the assessment team or focus group discussions
  • Establishment and/or training of community WASH committees for maintenance of shared infrastructure.
  • Garbage disposal
  • Vector control through proper site planning, eradication of breeding areas for vectors etc.

With a view to ensuring long term sustainability as well as do no harm principles, we should as a general rule (and where relevant) prioritize the rehabilitation of existing water sources rather than constructing new wells or boreholes. This will allow for existing water management committees to take on the management of the well/borehole/network rather than having to establish new such structures.

In contexts where water is a scarce resource, water points are often a source of conflict. We therefore need to be sensitive to what rehabilitation or construction of wells can mean in terms of local conflict dynamics. Design and location of more permanent installations should be coordinated with the cluster system and relevant duty bearers.


Common challenges in WASH interventions

  • Construction or rehabilitation of water sources might affect conflict dynamics
  • Newly constructed deep boreholes might lower the water table which can negatively affect the yield in other and less deep surrounding boreholes.
  • Poor availability of water sources
  • To ensure the needed water testing in order to ensure the quality of water supplied
  • Procurement and import of spare parts required for sophisticated water sources can be very time consuming
  • Ensuring community-led maintenance of infrastructure
  • Difficulty changing entrenched hygiene practices and behaviours.
  • Latrines and shower/washing facilities can become a high risk environment for sexual violence.
  • Authorities can be opposed to construction of permanent or semi-permanent structures.


Core guidance and standards



Contact the HQ Emergency Unit: [email protected]