WASH + Emergencies
Why does WASH matter in Emergencies?
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are critical for survival in the first phase of an emergency. People affected by humanitarian crises, such as natural disasters or displaced by conflict, are generally at a much higher risk of illness and death from disease. Inadequate access to WASH infrastructure and poor and crowded living conditions will exacerbate this risk. The most important diseases are those diarrhoeal and infectious diseases transmitted by the faecal oral route, but also includes those transmitted by vectors associated with poor sanitation, waste management and drainage.
The normal WASH response in emergencies is to ensure good hygiene practices, provide safe drinking water and toilet facilities and to improve the living conditions of the affected population to allow them to live in good health, with dignity and security. Simply providing sufficient water and sanitation facilities will not guarantee that they will be used effectively or have a positive impact on public health. It is critical that communities have the necessary knowledge and understanding to prevent WASH related diseases and are included in the process of designing and maintaining those facilities.
The Environmental Health Group works with governments, international agencies and private partners to research and evaluate how WASH interventions and projects can strengthen the evidence base, inform international WASH policy and practice and to ultimately reduce the burden of disease in emergencies.
Current research in this area:
The WASH’Em Project
This research is funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and is a partnership between the Environmental Health Group at LSHTM, Action Contre la Faim (ACF), and the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST). The aim of this research is to improve the design of rapid evidence-based hygiene behaviour change programmes in emergency settings. The research hopes to address an important gap in knowledge. When a humanitarian crisis occurs, whether it be a disease outbreak, a natural disaster or a protracted conflict, the social and physical environments of the affected population are disrupted. These disruptions result in behavioural shifts, including to behaviours of public health significance, such as handwashing with soap. There is a recognised dearth of literature explaining hygiene behaviour and its determinants in emergencies. This is a significant issue for crisis affected populations whose disease risk increases in the wake of a crisis. It is also an issue for emergency responders. While this evidence remains lacking it will impede the development of effective hygiene programs. The proposed research will map the determinants of hygiene behaviour and understand the constraints of hygiene programming within these crises settings. The research will will involve three components:
- A multistage qualitative literature review
- Interviews with humanitarian actors at the global and national level to understand how humanitarian actors currently design hygiene programs and the constraints they operate within
- Two case studies: one in an armed conflict (the Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and one in a disease outbreak (in the eastern part of the Demogratic Republic of Congo.
More information on the project can be found here: Handwashing in Humanitarian Crises
Publications related to WASH and Emergencies:
- Morgan, O; Ahern, M; Cairncross, S; Revisiting the tsunami: health consequences of flooding. PLoS medicine, 2005; 2 (6). e184.
- Clasen, T; Smith, L; Albert, J; Bastable, A; Fesselet, J; The drinking water response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, including the role of household water treatment. Disaster Prevention & Management, 2006; 15 (1). pp. 190-201.
- Clasen T, Boisson S. Household-based ceramic water filters for the treatment of drinking water in disaster response: An assessment of a pilot programme in the Dominican Republic. Water Practice & Technology. 2006; 1 (2).
- Brown J, Cavill S, Cumming O, Jeandron A. Water, sanitation, and hygiene in emergencies: summary review and recommendations for further research. Waterlines. 2012;31(1-2):11-29