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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

What We Do
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Water for Life

Access to water and sanitation is a fundamental human right and essential to life, health and dignity. Timely and adequate provision of clean water and sanitation services to uprooted people is particularly important, given the vulnerability of their situation. The UN believes that all refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and returnees should have access to adequate drinking water whether they stay in camps or in urban areas [ECOSOC, 2002].

The provision of adequate sanitation services is equally important. Proper disposal of all waste as well as control of the carriers of communicable diseases, including mosquitoes, rats, mice and flies, is crucial to mitigate health risks and prevent epidemics.

But the optimum benefit from water and sanitation interventions can only be achieved if communities and individuals are made aware of the links between hygiene practices, poor sanitation, polluted water sources and disease.

UNHCR estimates that more than half the refugee camps in the world are not able to provide the recommended minimum daily water requirement of 20 litres per person; while some 30 percent of camps do not have adequate waste disposal and latrine facilities.

Special efforts have been made in recent years to address critical gaps in the provision of water and sanitation services. UNHCR has also taken significant measures to lessen the social impact of inadequate water supplies, including the effect on children who miss school while collecting water and the risks to women who must travel far to reach a water outlet.

In 2009, UNHCR will continue to boost water and sanitation projects in operations around the world. This will include the rehabilitation and/or upgrading of existing water and sanitation facilities, enhancement of technical capacity to monitor and improve the quality of services, and implementation of hygiene promotion activities.

In the future, global climate change will become more of an issue for UNHCR. The climate-induced degradation of fresh water resources, more droughts and flooding, and a related decline in food production are already having an impact on many of UNHCR's operations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The overall objective of UNHCR's water and sanitation programmes is to minimize avoidable mortality and morbidity among displaced people and to minimize the resulting impact on the local environment, including fresh water. The agency, working with partners, will continue to coordinate and ensure the delivery of water and sanitation services to the displaced in camp and urban settings.

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UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, Third Edition

A reference tool which serves to reinforce a common understanding among the many key actors in emergency situations.