Access to drinking water and sanitation in crisis situations

Published on Wednesday 2 March 2022

By Alain Boinet, in collaboration with Baptiste Lecuyot, Sonia Rahal and Allassane Traoré, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL

“Water security for peace and development”: The theme of the 9th World Water Forum remains an intention, not a reality, for populations deprived of water as a result of conflicts, disasters or epidemics. Session 1A1 of the Forum will showcase some concrete, replicable responses.

For impoverished, crisis-affected populations, the consequences of inadequate access to drinking water and sanitation are as abundant as they are deadly: waterborne illnesses, child mortality, food insecurity, tensions among water users, forced population movements and stymied development. These are what we generally refer to as “humanitarian crises”.

In such cases, specialized humanitarian organizations deliver emergency aid to meet immediate, day-to-day needs. After this initial intervention, they then must provide ongoing assistance during the crisis, working with populations and local, national and international actors to find sustainable solutions. This is what we call “the humanitarian-development nexus”.  This “double nexus” is critical to safeguarding populations’ access to basic services.

Need we mention that, as we write these words, 2.2 billion human beings are without access to safe drinking water and 4.2 billion without access to sanitation? Need we also point out that nowhere is the threat to human life greater than amidst the crises unfolding in the world’s poorest countries?

Session 1A1 of the Dakar Forum will draw on ongoing or completed projects to highlight the various phases of the humanitarian-development nexus.

For the emergency phase, we will look to the example of the cholera epidemic that struck Haiti following the earthquake of January 2010. A rapid, coordinated response was needed to stem the outbreak before it could take hold. Thanks to a multi-stakeholder action plan that mobilized health actors, Haiti’s National Drinking Water and Sanitation Administration, humanitarian NGOs and financial backers, mobile rapid response teams were able to quickly isolate and treat those infected, and gradually eradicate cholera from the country.

The next phase is at the very core of the nexus: long-term assistance. This phase will be illustrated by the interventions currently underway in Burkina Faso, where insecurity is spreading. Some 47,000 people were displaced in 2018; today, the number stands at 1.3 million, out of a population of 21 million. In all, over 2.5 million people require assistance in accessing water and sanitation. In order to meet their needs, a pro-active project dubbed “Nex’Eau” is being implemented to strengthen public services. The project brings together complementary partners: the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, the National Office for Water and Sanitation, local communities, GRET (a development NGO), Groupe URD (an organization that evaluates and helps optimize NGO programs), and humanitarian organization SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, which is overseeing the three-year, 10-million-euro project, funded by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and USAID. The Nex’Eau project will be spotlighted at the session.

We know that funding levels need to quadruple in order for us to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6. We also know that, as it stands, funding lacks both flexibility and long-term sustainability.

The collaborative efforts of the Global WASH Cluster and the sector’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene Road Map 2020-2025 (spearheaded by 35 organizations) will feature prominently at the Forum. This promising road map has developed sixteen initiatives among which the WASH Severity Classification (WSC), a mechanism that provides sector actors with tried, tested and validated tools and protocols for action.

We invite you to join us at Session 1A1 of the Dakar Forum—and be sure also not to miss Sessions 1A2 and 1A3, as well as the special session devoted to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Road Map 2020-2025.

See you in Dakar!

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