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Gaps in WASH in humanitarian response: 2021 update

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People affected by crises set out future WASH priorities in new global report

1 December 2021 // THE HUMANITARIAN water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector is falling short of providing the service people affected by crises want, need, and expect, according to a new report from the Global WASH Cluster, Oxfam and Elrha.

More than 1,700 people affected by crises and nearly 700 in-country WASH practitioners shared their views on, and experiences of, WASH services for 'Gaps in WASH in Humanitarian Response: 2021 Update' -- the most comprehensive and inclusive research project of its kind in the humanitarian sector.

The resulting report, which aims to give people affected by crises more say in the WASH assistance they get and how they receive it, highlights that the long-term delivery of WASH facilities in emergencies falls short of the expectations of local populations and identifies a number of priority gaps in humanitarian WASH systems and responses, including:

  • water supply and provision;

  • sanitation access and cover;

  • hygiene practices and knowledge;

  • solid waste disposal.

"With increasing humanitarian emergencies leaving more people at risk, we need evidence-based strategies to provide effective humanitarian responses," said Cecilie Hestbaek, head of Elrha's Humanitarian Innovation Fund.

"People affected by crises should have more say in the type of assistance they get and how they get it, and this gap analysis is an important contribution to that accountability agenda.

"But how our sector responds to these findings is crucial. As a funder of humanitarian innovation and research, Elrha needs to dig deeper now to explore the root causes of these gaps and understand where new technical or systems solutions are needed, working in collaboration to identify the most promising innovation opportunities."

The Gap Analysis, which builds on Elrha's 2013 emergency WASH Gap Analysis, presents data based on direct feedback from 1,738 people affected by crises across 30 countries. It highlights gaps prioritised by nearly 700 WASH practitioners across 24 countries as well as 256 global WASH actors across 64 countries, which included a mix of practitioners, WASH experts at organisations' headquarters, donors and consultants.

This information was gathered during 2020 through focus group discussions, a global survey and case studies in a broad partnership between Elrha, the Global WASH Cluster, Oxfam, Tufts University, Cranfield University and University of Leeds.

The gap analysis reveals significant discrepancies between the importance given to certain problems by people affected by crises compared to INGO workers and existing literature.

Andy Bastable, head of water and sanitation for Oxfam, said: “This 2021 humanitarian WASH gap analysis is different from the one carried out in 2013 as this time we have the feedback from crises-affected populations covering 30 countries, which is the first time this has ever been done in the humanitarian WASH sector.

“The results from the study will influence where WASH agencies and donors focus their attention to address the gaps identified - the main one being that the long-term service delivery of WASH facilities in emergencies falls way short of populations’ expectations.”

Alongside the gaps it has identified, the report's findings suggest a need to improve feedback and accountability mechanisms; to design provision based on what is needed and valued locally rather than focusing solely on ensuring global standards are met; and considering WASH outcomes that reflect what matters to communities.

Monica Ramos, Global WASH Cluster Coordinator, said: "The results shown in the report are crucial for national humanitarian WASH coordination platforms. The emphasis on the voice of the affected populations sets this report apart and highlights that inclusive, people-centred programming be better integrated at the centre of WASH responses. This coupled with the simple and easy-to-use database aims to better coordinate and inform on-going needs analysis and strategic planning.

"We, at the Global WASH Cluster, see this as a great tool for implementing partners and practitioners to take action and ensure timely, predictable and high-quality WASH service delivery for those most affected by crisis. In my role, I encourage the broad dissemination of the 2021 Gap Analysis and advocate the immediate uptake in WASH responses."

The 2021 Gap Analysis package consists of four interlinked reports: the main research report; a 'Summary and discussion of results', a forthcoming 'Gap Analysis Manuscript', and the 'Gap Analysis Database'.\ ENDS

For more information or interview opportunities, please contact:

Leah Oatway, Elrha's communications, engagement and outreach manager, by email on or call 0759 322 8687.

Notes to editor:

About 'Gaps in WASH in Humanitarian Response: 2021 Update'

  1. The 2021 gap analysis was commissioned and funded by Elrha's Humanitarian Innovation Fund, in collaboration with the Global WASH Cluster and delivered by Oxfam, Tufts University, Cranfield University and University of Leeds. Oxfam contributed additional in-kind match funding in the form of staff time. All partners, except Tufts University, actively contributed to the development of the methodology of the project. Tufts carried out an independent analysis of the data. A Review Group supported the project by providing technical assistance.

  2. This work was made possible with funding and support from the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

About Elrha

  1. Elrha is a global charity established in 2009 that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation. It runs two programmes: the Humanitarian Innovation Fund and Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises.

  2. Elrha is an established actor in the humanitarian community, working in partnership with humanitarian organisations, researchers, innovators, and the private sector to tackle some of the most difficult challenges facing people all over the world.

  3. The Humanitarian Innovation Fund's thematic areas of focus include water, sanitation, and hygiene; gender-based violence; the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people in humanitarian response, locally-led innovation, and scaling innovation.

  4. For more information on Elrha visit its website, or check out its Twitter and LinkedIn channels\ About the Global WASH Cluster

  5. The Global WASH Cluster (GWC) led by UNICEF as the Cluster Lead Agency, is a partnership of over 80 international organisations, United Nations agencies, international non-governmental organisations, academic institutes and donors working in the humanitarian WASH sector.

  6. As part of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee Cluster System, the GWC has the primary mandate of ensuring the core coordination functions, which guide national coordination platforms at country level, are in place. The Cluster Advocacy and Support Team has been designated to spearhead the global leadership and strategic oversight of the GWC.

  7. We work in more than 30 countries to increase the capacity and resources to support effective coordination that ensures a predictable, timely and high-quality humanitarian WASH response for those most affected by crises.