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Lessons learned in WASH: Response during Rural Flood Emergencies

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1. Preamble

This lessons-learned paper is an initiative of the Global WASH Cluster Technical Learning Project, led by ACF1 -UK. The Project has identified water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) response to floods as a priority for technical learning in the sector. Flood emergencies are predicted to increase significantly because of climate change. A number of agencies have experience in responding to rural floods and this provides an opportunity to capture and harness good practices and lessons learned to inform future WASH responses.

This paper is intended for WASH technical advisors and personnel involved in planning and delivery of WASH programmes in rural flood emergency situations. Material in the paper is based both on a rapid review of literature, and on outputs from a WASH learning event held in Bihar, India in November 2008. The learning event was organised by ACF-UK, UNICEF and REDR India and was attended by international interagency WASH advisors and practitioners. It consisted of a workshop and field field visits to selected areas affected by floods. The event allowed for sharing of experiences from Asia, including Myanmar (cyclone Nargis, 2008), Bangladesh (cyclone Sidr, 2008), Nepal (Kosi floods, 2008), India (Bihar/Kosi floods, 2008) and Indonesia. The learning event also provided experiences from Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (Central Katanga) and Uganda. Additionally, desk research yielded valuable lessons from Ghana, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Ecuador, El Salvador, Bolivia and Haiti.

This paper identifies various lessons that can be learned from the experiences of relief agencies when responding to rural flooding emergencies. The lessons identified are meant to be practical and actionable in the short term, as opposed to actions that require time to implement. The paper does not claim to be comprehensive but can serve as a helpful document, which captures some important lessons to help improve future responses to floods in rural areas, and which can be added to in the future. In addition, these lessons have provided a framework for the development of technical guidance materials to support technical learning in the sector. A series of technical briefs have been developed on issues identified in this paper and are available via the WASH Cluster website

An introduction section provides background information on flood emergencies, followed by a section on challenges of WASH response to rural floods, which presents the findings from the Bihar learning exchange and sets the stage for discussion of WASH issues. The resultant lessons are presented under four headings;

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Cross Cutting Issues. A summary of the lessons learned contained in this paper is presented at Appendix 1.

We would like to thank the participants at the learning exchange and workshop in Bihar (24th – 27th November 2008), WEDC and members of the project Steering Group (including representatives from Care, CRS, Oxfam, REDR, UNICEF and ACF) for their contribution to this paper.