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Gaps in WASH in Humanitarian Response: 2021 Update

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Executive Summary

Humanitarian emergencies, including natural hazard-driven disasters, conflicts, and disease outbreaks, are occurring at increasing rates and affecting a growing number of people worldwide. With many more people at risk, evidence-based strategies - including in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) - are needed to provide the most effective interventions supporting the wellbeing, safety and dignity of people affected by crises, and to prevent and control communicable diseases. A previous gap analysis (from 2013), identified spaces for innovation in emergency WASH, and has been used for the past eight years to identify funding priorities. In 2020, data collection began to update that gap analysis with a goal to have a wider evidence base, and to strengthen and improve accountability to affected populations. We now present the updated work: Gaps in WASH in Humanitarian Response - 2021 Update (‘the 2021 Gap Analysis’).
To complete the 2021 Gap Analysis, data were collected from two different streams:

  1. Direct feedback including FGDs with people affected by crises and WASH practitioners, a global survey, and case studies

  2. Literature reviews including both previous reviews and new reviews.

Data were synthesised by each data source, then combined into overall gaps and compared. Gaps were extracted and categorised into five themes (water, sanitation, hygiene, general WASH, and cross-cutting), 19 major categories, and 58 categories of gaps.

Gaps were gathered from 154 FGDs with people affected by crises, 66 FGDs with WASH practitioners, 246 respondents to the global survey, three country case studies, and 614 peer-reviewed and grey literature documents. A total of 6,039 gaps were identified, including 2,888 (48%) from direct feedback and 3,151 (52%) from literature reviews.

We found different groups of stakeholders had different perspectives and thoughts on the most important WASH gaps.

Overall, people affected by crises primarily wanted services: water, sanitation, solid waste disposal, and hygiene items.
Global survey respondents primarily wanted better mechanisms to provide services: collaboration with goverment, increased WASH expertise, and community engagement. WASH practitioners fell in the middle, and the literature expressed a need for a health impact framework for supporting WASH interventions.

In conclusion, we found that people affected by crises want the what (services), responders want the how (to provide better services), and researchers want to provide the why (a health impact framework supporting WASH).

As we move to address these gaps and improve WASH programming in humanitarian response, considering whose perspective and needs we are trying to meet is critical to being effective, as well as to further localising our work and reach populations affected by crises.