Water, sanitation and hygiene in an emergency

Safe water, sanitation and hygiene are among the most urgent needs after a natural disaster. When water and sanitation facilities like wells and toilets are contaminated or destroyed, waterborne diseases like cholera spread quickly.

If people don't have clean water or soap, it is nearly impossible to stay healthy. You can help support a family to stay healthy during a humanitarian crisis with access to safe water, a toilet and hygiene. These essentials can mean the difference between life and death for vulnerable people around the world.

As a  , WaterAid's primary focus is on mitigating risk by building robust water systems and reducing vulnerability so that when disasters happen, people have the support, knowledge and infrastructure they need to recover.

Rapid support in emergencies
When disasters strike, WaterAid has staff and expertise in 22 countries with strong ties to communities, partners and governments. These existing relationships allow us to to minimize suffering and loss of life.

Natural disasters typically activate a coordinated cluster response with input from local and national government. WaterAid liaises and takes direction from the UN’s Global WASH Cluster to find out where and how we can best assist, particularly with hygiene and safe sanitation.

Case study: Pakistan floods 2022

From rapid response to sustainable development

Hygiene promoter of WAP (local partner) conducting a session on health and hygiene in Basti Sonhwa, Rajanpur district, Pakistan. WaterAid emergency flood response, Pakistan, September 2022.
Image: (no credit)

In August 2022, Pakistan was hit with unprecedented flooding affecting more than 33 million people across the regions of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. More than 1,700 people were killed, including 588 children, and at least 2.2 million homes were destroyed. Pakistan is also home to 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees, the majority of whom were in the hardest hit districts.

Building on more than a decade of experience in the field, WaterAid Pakistan quickly stepped in to meet people’s immediate needs. Working with local partners, WaterAid launched a rapid response focused on:

  • Clearing flood water
  • Providing hygiene kits
  • Disinfecting drinking water sources
  • Building temporary toilets in schools and camps
  • Raising awareness of safe water, sanitation and personal hygiene
  • Supporting women and girls with menstrual hygiene kits

The impact

people reached with clean water

people reached with decent toilets

people reached with hygiene awareness

Resilient systems that last

We ensure communities have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, even if disaster strikes. This requires a holistic, long-term approach beyond emergency relief.

As a sustainable development organization, we use a human rights-based approach where local communities have a meaningful say and role in their own development.

Our work uses technologies and systems that are and . As a development organization, WaterAid can help communities and disaster response organizations support the transition from acute response to long-term development.

Recently example of this approach in action: 

  • In Nepal, we work with local leaders in flood-prone areas to reduce the risks from a disaster by building raised toilets and water points.
  • In West Africa, we work with communities and local authorities to ensure plans are in place for outbreaks of diseases like cholera or Ebola.
  • In Bangladesh we work with communities to influence national policies on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Communities create ‘vulnerability maps’ to identify areas most at risk of flooding. These maps are then used to develop infrastructure improvement projects with local authorities.

For more than 40 years, WaterAid has responded to humanitarian crises and natural disasters around the world—from the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh to devastating floods in Pakistan. We act rapidly where our expertise and resources are able to make a difference. We also support the transition to sustainable, long-term planning that helps communities become stronger and more adept at facing future challenges, including climate change. We would not be able to respond to disasters without the support of our donors and partners.

If you want to support urgent needs for safe water, sanitation and hygiene around the world, please donate now.

Current emergency response work


Monsoon rains and floods in 2022 left one third of Pakistan under water.

Disinfecting water sources, distributing hygiene kits, building toilets in camps

View of flooded fields in Pakistan, after the floods of 2022
Image: WaterAid

Malawi & Mozambique

Tropical storms in 2022 caused severe flooding.

WaterAid provided humanitarian relief in emergency camps, distributing hygiene kits, handwashing supplies and more.

Patuma, prepares a meal at the camp in Chikwawa, Malawi. Her husband and children left their house after it was flooded.
Image: WaterAid/Francis Chipanda


When Covid-19 surged in India, WaterAid provided clean water, toilets and handwashing to rural health centers.

At the height of the Covid-19 surge, WaterAid reached 4.5 million people with clean water at points of care across five Indian states.


What makes up a hygiene kit?

The specific contents of a hygiene kit can vary, depending on the situation, whether displacement or disease prevention, however the most commonly-occurring elements can be found below. 

The items in this hygiene kit are illustrative. Our hygiene kits are compiled using locally-available products, so specific brands and items will vary in different countries or regions. The items can vary, depending on the needs of the community. For example, families with young children might receive a potty, instead of diapers. The items photographed are examples of typical hygiene kit contents.