Water Sanitation

Water Sanitation

The importance of WASH in disasters Water & sanitation are critical determinants for survival in the initial stages of a disaster. People affected by disasters are generally much more susceptible to illness and death from disease, which to a large extent are related to inadequate sanitation, inadequate water supplies and inability to maintain good hygiene. The most significant of these diseases are diarrhea and infectious diseases transmitted by the faeco-oral route.  The term ‘sanitation’, refers to excreta disposal, vector control, solid waste disposal and drainage.  The main objective of WASH programmes in disasters is to reduce the transmission of faeco-oral diseases and exposure to disease-bearing vectors through the promotion of:

1.Good hygiene practices
2.The provision of safe drinking water
3.The reduction of environmental health risks
4.The conditions that allow people to live with good health, dignity, comfort and security.

Simply providing sufficient water and sanitation facilities will not, on its own, ensure their optimal use or impact on public health. In order to achieve the maximum benefit from a response, it is imperative that disaster-affected people have the necessary information, knowledge and understanding to prevent water- and sanitation-related diseases and to mobilise their involvement in the design and maintenance of those facilities. 

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Water and sanitation are critical determinants for survival in the initial stages of a disaster. People affected by disasters are generally much more susceptible to illness and death from disease, which to a large extent are related to inadequate sanitation, inadequate water supplies and inability to maintain good hygiene. The most significant of these diseases are diarrhoeal and infectious diseases transmitted by the faeco-oral route (see Appendix 4: Water- and excreta-related diseases and transmission mechanisms). Other water- and sanitation-related diseases include those carried by vectors associated with solid waste and water. The term ‘sanitation’, throughout the Sphere Handbook, refers to excreta disposal, vector control, solid waste disposal and drainage.

The main objective of WASH programmes in disasters is to reduce the transmission of faeco-oral diseases and exposure to disease-bearing vectors through the promotion of:

good hygiene practices
the provision of safe drinking water
the reduction of environmental health risks
the conditions that allow people to live with good health, dignity, comfort and security.

Simply providing sufficient water and sanitation facilities will not, on its own, ensure their optimal use or impact on public health. In order to achieve the maximum benefit from a response, it is imperative that disaster-affected people have the necessary information, knowledge and understanding to prevent water- and sanitation-related diseases and to mobilise their involvement in the design and maintenance of those facilities.

The use of communal water and sanitation facilities, for example in refugee or displaced situations, can increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence. In order to minimise these risks, and to provide a better quality of response, it is important to ensure women’s participation in water supply and sanitation programmes. An equitable participation of women and men in planning, decision-making and local management will help to ensure that the entire affected population has safe and easy access to water supply and sanitation services, and that services are appropriate.

Better disaster response in public health is achieved through better preparedness. Such preparedness is the result of capacities, relationships and knowledge developed by governments, humanitarian agencies, local civil society organisations, communities and individuals to anticipate and respond effectively to the impact of likely, imminent hazards. It is based on an analysis of risks and is well linked to early warning systems. Preparedness includes contingency planning, stockpiling of equipment and supplies, emergency services and stand-by arrangements, personnel training and community-level planning training and drills.

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