Dealing with disasters

WaterAid is not a disaster relief organisation but inevitably we deal with disaster-affected areas in our work. Our Disasters framework outlines our approach to water and sanitation in these areas.

WASH Matters

22 Nov 2013

Joanne Beale

We live in a world where disasters happen. The combination of a hazards, such a cyclones or earthquakes, and vulnerability leads to disasters. There are often underlying root causes of disaster vulnerability such as poverty, inequality or marginalisation. These can combine with pressures such as weak governance, a growing population or a low capacity to manage disasters.

In the communities we work with, people are often disproportionately affected by disasters, such as during the floods in Pakistan in 2010 or the cholera outbreak in West Africa 2012.

Why water and sanitation matter

Water and sanitation are critical determinants for survival in the early stages of all disasters. Diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) are among the most common causes of death in emergencies. Diarrhoeal diseases are closely related to inadequate sanitation, inadequate clean water supplies and poor hygiene.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, above-ground water supplies are often contaminated or destroyed and sanitation facilities are absent. This can result in outbreaks of water-borne diseases. Between 2000 and 2006, water-related disasters alone killed more than 290,000 people globally. Some of these deaths would be prevented by implementing mitigating water and sanitation supplies.

What are we doing?

As I write, we are hearing news following Cyclone Phailin in India, where several of our operational areas have been affected. Our India country programme now has many decisions to make as the country begins response operations.

As a WASH development organisation with sustainability as a key principle, to what extent should we engage in disaster response? And more importantly, what could we do to limit the impact next time? To explore some of these questions as an organisation we have recently launched our Disasters framework which outlines our approach to disasters. We have outlined ten minimum commitments but with three main focuses:

  1. Focus on underlying vulnerabilities and reducing disaster risk in our core activities.
  2. Support the transition from acute response to long-term development by working with humanitarian agencies to continue support to communities once humanitarian funding and programming finishes.
  3. Work alongside humanitarian actors to contribute our expertise and longer-term perspective to disaster responses, consistent with the immediate humanitarian need. Facilitate development after the acute phase of an emergency particularly where WaterAid already has a good contextual knowledge, including history, relationships with key stakeholders, community WASH practices and context appropriate communication materials.

Download the Disasters framework >