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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
© Unicef
Water, sanitation and hygiene


What is it?

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is one of the 3 main sectors of humanitarian operations, alongside food and health.  

Providing access to safe drinking water in sufficient quantities is essential in emergencies and crises. Basic sanitation and hygiene education are important for a healthy living environment.

Why is this important?

Every year, 30 million people flee their homes due to conflict or disasters, while over 200 million are affected by natural hazards.

In such emergencies, the displaced people often lack access to safe, clean water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene. The reason is that 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 due to unsafe water or poor sanitation. Therefore, WASH represents one of the core sectors of humanitarian operations.

How are we helping?

The EU is one of the largest humanitarian donors of WASH assistance worldwide. It contributes around €200 million each year.

EU humanitarian funding ensures timely and dignified access to sufficient and safe water services for people caught in humanitarian crises.

The EU increasingly supports projects that incorporate WASH components within other humanitarian sectors such as health, nutrition, and education. It also places special emphasis on:

  • enabling quick access to clean water, decent sanitation, and hygiene services during a crisis
  • helping to build resilience and recovering capacities of the affected populations against crises
  • taking preventive action against water-borne diseases.

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 Settlements experts, country experts, as well as NGOs, the United Nations, and Red Cross and Crescent partners.

The EU prioritises 3 areas in the field of WASH:

  • speed of response: the increasing frequency and scale of sudden-onset disasters require better reaction capacities. The EU improves logistical support for the humanitarian community to facilitate experts and equipment are on site as early as possible.
  • coordination: a fast response also depends on good coordination, essential for assessing and prioritising needs. The EU is working closely with the Global WASH Cluster - the main international platform, 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 WASH needs in urban humanitarian crises often require a technically adapted response. This can be provided through civil protection actions (e.g., setting up large-scale water pumps and purification systems to replace water infrastructure damaged in a natural hazard)

Last updated: 10/02/2022

Facts & figures

The number of people without access to safe water is expected to reach 2 billion by 2025.

By 2050, demand for water is expected to increase by 55%.

Every day, more than 700 children under the age of 5 die of diarrhoea caused by unsafe water or poor sanitation.

Around 4 billion people are hit by severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. (United Nations)

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