Afghanistan + 5 more

Water management in countries in crisis

A major factor in public health and food security

Water - in the headlines

This year water is in the headlines more than ever: 2003 has been declared International Year of Freshwater.

Numerous events are being held to mark the occasion, notably the third World Water Forum in Kyoto from 16 to 23 March, which will examine how water resources are valued and managed, as well as World Water Day on 22 March with 'Water for the future' as its theme.

Water - synonymous with life and death

1.1 billion people throughout the world have no access to clean drinking water and 2.4 billion have no access to any type of sanitary facilities.1

15,000 people die of water-borne diseases every day - 10 times more than are killed by war.2

Today, 2.2 million people - 90 per cent of them children - still die of diarrhoea that is mainly linked to inadequate water and sanitary conditions.3

So in fact water, synonymous of life, all too often also means death. Poor quality water and sanitation is responsible for numerous diseases, which can lead to malnutrition and death. In developing countries, up to 80 per cent of illnesses and more than a third of deaths are due to using contaminated water.4 Above and beyond the problem of contaminated water, easy access to enough water is a fundamental factor of public health and food security and socio-economic development.

Action Against Hunger - a leader in the field of water

Action Against Hunger, an NGO specialising in fighting hunger, intervenes in countries in crisis to treat and prevent malnutrition and food insecurity.

The contexts for intervention are open conflicts, natural disasters and reconstruction phases but also countries lacking in infrastructure where the absence of national policy compromises the development or survival of a part of the population.

In order to succeed in this fight against hunger, like other agencies such as UNICEF or Oxfam, the association has developed its activities on the ground in the field of water and sanitation.

Depending on the context, the objective of intervention is direct assistance to populations in order to alleviate emergency situations by guaranteeing access to drinking water and an adequate sanitary environment. In more peaceful situations, the objective is also to put into place infrastructure and to train the population in order to improve long-term access to water.

Action Against Hunger believes that access to and control over water is a major factor in public health and food security.

Our organisation has a proven track record in the field. Action Against Hunger has a special Water and Sanitation department, which ensures the quality of projects through close follow-up, regular visits to projects and continuous communication. The department also aims to capitalise on experience acquired in the field: it carries out technical development and in 1999 published a reference book on water based on Action Against Hunger's experience, explaining the organisation's methods and intervention techniques in the field of water5.

A member of the Water Academy6, Action Against Hunger helped draft the 'Social Water Charter' with information on the problems found in countries in crisis. Through this type of involvement and through its position in the World Water Forum in the Hague in 2000, Action Against Hunger defends the right to access to water for all. Water cannot be reduced to a market value that only benefits the wealthy.

Action Against Hunger will be present at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto between 16 and 23 March, leading a session: The role of water in the eradication of hunger - the characteristics of humanitarian water programmes.

A team of Action Against Hunger's water specialists will lead a session to analyse and discuss the importance of water in the eradication of hunger. Accompanying the Action Against Hunger team will be five members of the organisation's local staff from its worldwide programmes in Colombia, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Nicaragua and Honduras who will bring to their experience in the field to the session.

The role of water in the eradication of hunger

March 19 12.30 - 15.15
Takaragaike Prince Hotel
Kyoto 606-8505
Phone 81-75-705-1111
Fax 81-75-705-7677

Imagine having to survive on just five litres of water per day

Average water consumption during dry season in the Sahel [the Southern border of the Sahara desert] is five litres of water per person per day. People in Western Europe use on average 150 litres every day.

A young couple, Mark and Sue, agreed to try to spend a whole weekend using the same amount of water that Sahelians have during dry season.

No flushing the toilet, no showers or baths, no watering the plants!

Typical day

7.33am - the alarm clock goes off and Sue and Mark get up. On automatic pilot, Sue puts on her dressing gown and goes to the bathroom. No shower for her this morning - she's just remembered that a shower uses up between 30 and 80 litres of water, or between six and 16 times more water than she has for the entire day.

7.35pm - Resigned, Sue moistens a flannel and has a quick wash (500ml, or half a litre).

7.45am - It's Mark's turn to face the problem of washing. Moaning, he also makes do with the flannel.

7.50am - Breakfast: two cups of coffee and toast (500ml)

Stopping and taking stock of their water consumption so far, Mark and Sue realise that they have used a litre and a half in 17 minutes. They decide to share a glass of water (250ml).

8.30am - When breakfast is finished, the washing up has to be done. They both agree that they can't use the cups twice and will wash them later on.

8.32am - Sue goes to the bathroom again and fills a glass with water to brush her teeth (250ml).

These two only have to take a few steps and turn a tap to get as much clear, clean water as they want.

In Angola, the women of the Kaley peasant family have to walk half a mile at dawn to get to the Cunene river to fetch the water for the family. There and back takes one hour.

10.30am - Mark is thirsty and decides to share a glass of water with Sue (250ml).

An adult of average height and level of activity living in a temperate region needs about 2.5 litres of water a day, one litre of which comes from food and 1.5 litres from drinks. Without water, he cannot live more than two or three days. If he drinks but doesn't eat, he can survive for around 40 days.

12.01pm - It's time to make lunch. Sue and Mark have decided to adapt their usual diet so as to save water - they have chicken with water-rich vegetables. They also each have a glass of water and a glass of wine (half a litre). Their coffee uses up another quarter of a litre.

In Mali, people have adapted to the lack of water by using sand to do the washing up.

4.20pm - It's raining. Mark decides to put a bowl on the window ledge outside to collect some rainwater.

In the arid areas in the north of Chile, a water recycling system has been set up. Large pieces of cloth have been laid out on the slopes of the Andes to absorb and recycle the morning dew.

8.27pm - Dinner is being prepared: vegetable soup from a packet, breaded fish and tinned spinach, and two glasses of water each. Dinner uses up 1.5 litres of water in all. The washing up can't be put off any longer and they have to use four litres of water.

11.56pm - At the end of the day, two glasses of water are used for brushing their teeth (500ml). They also have a quick wash (one litre between two).

They've done it: Mark and Sue have used just 10 litres of water between them.

Sunday is pretty much like Saturday, apart from the fact that our guinea pigs get thirstier and thirstier.

The lack of water for hygiene purposes has made the experience tough. Washing up and personal hygiene require a large amount of water; the lack of drinking water hasn't been felt too much in such a short space of time, especially since Mark and Sue can eat water-rich foods and have other drinks instead of water.

While Mark and Sue managed to make do with just five litres of water each for two days, on a normal day they or the average person living in Western Europe would use around 150 litres each. In fact we use most of our water not for consumption but for personal hygiene and cleaning purposes. What is more, Sue and Mark have done this experiment in a temperate climate, and while at rest during a weekend. They did not have to cope with a scorching sun, long journey's by foot or hard physical activities.

Typical water use at home in the UK7

  • Taking a bath 80 litres
  • Taking a shower 35 litres
  • Flushing the toilet 7.5-9.5 litres
  • Watering the garden using a sprinkler up to 540 litres/hour
  • Using a washing machine 65 litres
  • Using a dishwasher up to 25 litres

During and after the emergency

Action Against Hunger's mandate is to help populations facing crisis: open conflicts, natural disasters, post-emergency, countries lacking in political or other infrastructure, discrimination.

I. Emergency situations

Action Against Hunger's first mandate is to intervene in so-called emergency situations, i.e. to carry out interventions aiming to bring immediate assistance to populations whose chance of survival is compromised.

Two types of situation lead to these emergency interventions: natural disasters (floods, droughts, etc.) and open conflicts.

A. Natural disasters

1. Floods

Floods are a curse. They are caused by hurricanes or heavy rains that generate strong currents and a rapid rise in water levels. Often taking place after a cycle of recurrent drought, their effect is made worse by the compact soil and lack of vegetation to stop the water runoff.

These lead to mud slides and the destruction of habitats and other infrastructure, and so often to the displacement of populations. The peasants who live in these floodable zones because of their fertility have to take refuge in higher up areas.

This is what happened after the flooding in the Zambezi valley in Mozambique in 2001. Following heavy rain and opportunistic management of dams upstream in Kabira, the lower part of the Zambezi valley suffered serious flooding. The inhabitants were forced to flee the main river bank where they lived and seek refuge in the zone's higher areas. Action Against Hunger provided a water supply to some 30,000 people regrouped in camps around the town of Caia.

Floods often cause damage to infrastructure and cause contamination of surface waters and wells. Water points need to be restored so as to avoid epidemics and so that the population can quickly regain its independence. These sites are then disinfected and cleaned to control the occurrence of disease.

It's an irony of fate that floods are often linked to drought or the end of dry periods. When the first rains come, vast streams of water course across the soil, which is iron-hard, non-absorbent and bereft of vegetation. In this way, rain can worsen the population's situation rather than bring things back to normal.

Case study: Mozambique, Sofala Province

Sixteen years of civil war have severely affected the people of Mozambique. Already vulnerable, in 2000 they had to deal with very heavy rains, which caused the biggest flood that the country had seen in 50 years. The situation, already very worrying, got even worse when Hurricane Eline hit two weeks later, devastating most of the houses and buildings and leaving the population without shelter and with absolutely no resources.

Action Against Hunger immediately responded to this emergency by helping with the provision of drinking water. 120 water points were disinfected and cleaned. 80 water points were restored, with temporary water distribution organised in the Guara-Guara camp and in the town of Chibabava. A continuous supply of chlorine solution was distributed to more than 4,500 families to encourage the disinfection of household water.

Certain areas have remained completely inaccessible; they have benefited from chlorine distribution, but the work of cleaning and rehabilitation of water points is still to be done. Restoring each water point, which may be the only one in the area, is vital.

Three lines of work have been established in the province to compensate for the damage caused by the floods:

  • Rehabilitation of existing water points: an increase in the number of drinking water points through the restoration of existing water points

  • Creation of water point maintenance committees, i.e. setting up a maintenance system and creating a village committee and artisan repairmen

  • Education and awareness-raising of hygiene and good water use: workshops for the villagers who will use the pumps

10,000 people benefited from the rehabilitation and 50,000 from the workshops. Moreover, priority areas have been established to allow for greater efficiency for populations in the most vulnerable situations.

2. Droughts

Water as food

A shortage of drinking water can in itself cause population displacement. When a region's normal sources of drinking water (e.g. ponds) dry up, the inhabitants have to leave everything behind - land, home - to get closer to permanent water sources. As a result they often find themselves in a vulnerable situation, both in terms of material conditions and food.

If a shortage of drinking water puts the populations affected at risk, the lack of water to irrigate farming land or to water animals has the same consequence.

Case study: Ethiopia

A chronic lack of food due to unpredictable weather conditions, the progressive erosion of natural resources and political inertia translate into cyclical humanitarian crises. Ethiopia is also suffering the consequences of recent conflicts (Eritrea) and power struggles against a background of ethnic rivalry, making the population even more acutely vulnerable.

In the Afar region, years of drought coupled with the diversion of the river Awash towards cotton plantations have led to a lack of water for irrigation, cattle and drinking and have left the population in a state of distress.

Action Against Hunger has put into place two types of programme: transportation of water by lorry following droughts, and reinforcement of hydraulic infrastructure to reduce the impact of drought.

Water as the basis of agricultural production and animal husbandry

Tropical zones have rainy and dry seasons. As a result, agricultural calendars and cycles of pastoral migration also follow seasonal variations. If the rainy season doesn't come, crops dependent on rain do not yield, cattle perishes in barren pastures and water points dry up. Famine soon looms.

Good water control is essential to avoid food security in dry tropical zones becoming subject to climactic fluctuations. Various measures can be taken to counter this dependence, aiming at improving the use of water throughout the cycle: collecting and storing rain and runoff water, capturing water sources and flows and exploiting underground water (e.g. wells). These works, linked to distribution systems, allow farmers and agronomists to combat unpredictable weather. However, for the system to be durable, the availability of resources must be taken into consideration and optimally managed.

For example, once agricultural programmes have been implemented, adapted technique and awareness-raising among the population allow for the improvement of irrigation methods in order to limit water loss (evaporation, infiltration) and to avoid the over-exploitation of subterranean resources.

The construction of infrastructure guarantees lasting access to water, allowing rural populations to grow food and make a profit from their land and cattle even in times of drought, thus drastically decreasing the risk of famine.

B. Conflicts

Large-scale humanitarian crises are mainly caused by open conflicts. In the course of these conflicts, the civil population has to displace to the more peaceful parts of the country or take refuge in neighbouring countries.

Whether displaced or refugee, the affected populations often have to move to inhospitable terrain, where conditions are often very unfavourable (outlying areas, susceptible to flooding or unsuitable for agriculture). Humanitarian workers then have to deal with water supply and sanitation problems in order to meet the people's basic needs and to avoid epidemics, particularly of cholera.

It's important to note that the choice of land is often the object of intense political negotiations that result in an unwanted piece of land being handed over, which then has to be developed.

An influx of thousands of people to one place will always pose problems for all families involved - food supply problems, but above all problems related to hygiene.

It's down to the camp organisers to handle these problems so as to avoid epidemics, particularly by building latrines and by making water points secure.

There are several possible ways of providing for these camps: using surface water (water from a nearby river, for example, which can be pumped and then treated), or drilling in order to pump water from underground sources. If the water point is near the camp, water can then be distributed directly to the people; if very distant, a lorry is used to transport the water to the camp.

Water access and sanitary conditions are subject to precise criteria. Like most humanitarian agencies, Action Against Hunger uses the SPHERE project indicators8, guidelines recognised as public health reference points when responding to humanitarian needs in emergency situations. For example, the key SPHERE indicators recommend 15 litres as a minimum amount of water per person per day.

In any emergency intervention in camps, drainage must be taken into account. This includes human waste management (construction of latrines, establishing areas for defecation, etc.), setting up systems for collecting rubbish and drainage of stagnant water.

The general objectives of drainage are to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases developing and propagating, and to control transmission of disease due to poor sanitation.

Case study: Sierre Leone

For eight years, the population of Sierra Leone stood by powerless as a succession of coups accompanied by violent combats, looting and extortion devastated the country and caused serious food shortages.

Neither Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's democratic election as President of the Republic nor the 1996 ceasefire were able to withstand a military coup in 1997. But the ECOMOG offensive causing the rebels to flee allowed Kabbah to return in 1998. A peace treaty was signed a year later, which however failed to satisfy the rebels, who took up arms again despite the presence of blue helmets. Then situation only stabilised in March 2002; since then the country has remained under international surveillance.

Action Against Hunger, present in the country since 1991, moved from emergency to rehabilitation programmes.

Between May and August 2000, when the conflict started up again in the Freetown region, Action Against Hunger received a great number of displaced people in an emergency situation. Water supply and camp drainage activities were begun. More than 45,000 people were provided with water, entailing the distribution of several hundred cubic metres of water per day. 241 latrines and 56 showers were built or restored. Four laundry points were set up. Hygiene education sessions were also conducted.

Water as a weapon

During conflicts, the destruction and contamination of water points is unfortunately often part of the warring factions' scorched earth tactics aiming to cause displacement of populations.

Following a visit to the Ivory Coast, researchers from Amnesty International were witness to the following abuses in La Croix on 20 December 2002: "Inhabitants of Burkina-Faso and Mali are currently fleeing the region of Vavoua and Daloa because corpses that have been thrown into the wells have poisoned the water, meaning that they can no longer live there."

Another example: in 2000, in the south of Angola, an extremely dry region, some wells built by Action Against Hunger were mined by rebels in order to destabilise the local population.

II. After the emergency

After a major crisis, the country finds itself with broken or abandoned infrastructures, which causes difficulties in terms of access to water and consequently accumulated risks of disease, leading in turn to public health and malnutrition problems. Action Against Hunger intervenes in post-emergency situations in order to rehabilitate these infrastructures, generally within the framework of the existing governmental structure.

In the case of an open struggle, the country affected - often having undergone successive crises, like Liberia - is frequently very unstable politically speaking. In these circumstances, and in the absence of stable governments, reconstruction and structuration are extremely slow, which keeps the countries concerned in a state of crisis long after the conflict proper ends. The absence of a government leads Action Against Hunger to substitute state structures, setting up 'water and drainage' programmes directly with the people. Community management then ensures the long-term benefits of this work.

A. The double problematic: water quality/ access to water

1. Water quality

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than a fifth of the world's population still has no access to clean drinking water. In this "fifth world", 285 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 398 million in East Asia.9

Consumption of poor quality water often leads to disease which can result in malnutrition.

In developing countries, up to 80 per cent of diseases and more than a third of deaths are attributable to drinking or cooking with contaminated water.10

Case study: Mogadishu, Somalia

After 10 years of civil war, Somalia is still prey to inter-clan violence. Its people live in a vulnerable state in terms of food and sanitary conditions.

Some 150,000 displaced people in Mogadishu live in appalling hygiene and sanitary conditions. Displaced populations set up home in flimsy shelters made from branches and mud, without any sanitary facilities.

In the capital, no public structures have survived the disappearance of the State body. The drinking water distribution network gave up the ghost in 1995. There is no system for collecting rubbish: waste piles up in the streets, accentuating the city's insalubrious state. Many water points and wells are polluted. This situation favours the development of water-borne diseases, notably diarrhoea, which can lead to malnutrition and even death.

In response, Action Against Hunger has been running water and drainage programmes in Mogadishu since 1992. The aim is to facilitate the population's access to water, thereby reducing the risk of water related diseases.

Methods used include improving drainage conditions in camps for displaced people by constructing, rehabilitating and emptying latrines; improving the availability and quality of water in the camps by building and rehabilitating wells, chlorinating water during cholera epidemics (chlorination of 80 per cent of the wells in Mogadishu), and installing hand pumps: hygiene education programme (22 educators) to improve the population's knowledge and practices and prevent the risk of epidemics.

Case study: Kabul (Afghanistan)

Afghanistan has been bled dry by 23 years of war and three years of drought. A large fringe of the population is now very vulnerable and has a high level of needs, notably in terms of food and sanitation. Among the most vulnerable and worthy of attention are former refugees and/ or formerly displaced people (almost 1.8 million in 2002, and 1.5 million predicted for 2003).

In Kabul, where more than 45 per cent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, each month Action Against Hunger takes care of several thousand undernourished children in its 21 food centres.

For a number of years, Action Against Hunger has also been fighting the causes of malnutrition in Kabul: food insecurity, poor water management and hygiene practices, failing urban drainage structures and insufficient access to drinking water.

In response, as part of the organisation's adapted food security programmes, Action Against Hunger's hydraulics specialists have set up a large-scale programme to supply drinking water and communal water points, and to restore the drainage systems (emptying waste water and individual latrines) in the most underprivileged neighbourhoods of Kabul, where former refugees and/ or formerly displaced people usually live. In order to increase their impact on public health, these programmes are accompanied by campaigns to raise awareness of water management and hygiene.

Action Against Hunger has built or restored a total of 500 wells, 800 latrines, 54 household waste skips and 30 km of waste water pipes.

How did the Action Against Hunger teams identify water as a cause of malnutrition in Kabul?

In order to gain a better understanding of malnutrition, Action Against Hunger's nurses specialising in nutrition analysed data collected on Kabul between May 1999 and July 2001. This study allowed them to identify a correlation between an increase in diarrhoea cases and a rise in the number of children affected by malnutrition. The graph below also shows the seasonal nature of malnutrition, which is particularly rife in summer when high temperatures create conditions for water-borne bacteria to develop more easily - especially since water becomes scarce at this time of year. Diarrhoea cases multiply and the populations' state of health deteriorates. Even though it is difficult to establish direct cause-effect links with malnutrition, it is evident that the deterioration of the sanitary environment and of access to water strongly favours the development of malnutrition.

2. Access to water

Access to water in developed countries means no more than turning on a tap. By contrast, in countries in crisis or post-crisis getting water means walking and waiting for several hours every day. In many of the regions where Action Against Hunger works, fetching water, which often falls to women, is an exhausting daily chore. Water is often drawn from a well using a rope attached to a 15-20 litre bucket, which has to be hoisted back up 20 metres or more. And this is just the first stage. The water, weighing some 20 kilos, then has to be carried home, which could be 20-30 kilometres away.

These constraints affect the state of a population in a number of different ways.

First, the volume of water consumed. These access problems obviously reduce the amount of water available to each household.

In the wake of conflicts, natural disasters or simply lack of governmental policy, populations very often have to cut their water consumption drastically, even to five litres per day.11 This lack of water has direct repercussions on public health (forced neglect of hygiene).

Dehydration is a permanent threat in hot climates and it can have dramatic consequences, notably diarrhoea or strong fevers. The little water available within the home is not enough for all family members.

Water is also necessary for washing and cleaning - when it is in short supply, hygiene conditions deteriorate catastrophically, triggering a cycle of lack of water leading to diarrhoea-related diseases, often ending in death.

The second consequence is linked to the time and effort expended fetching and carrying water. This gruelling daily task directly affects women's health, particularly when they are pregnant or breast-feeding. Child development therefore also suffers, due to the mother's failing health.

The time spent on this chore has a negative effect on the child-mother relationship. A mother who is frequently absent dedicates little time to her children, which is harmful for their psychological equilibrium. Moreover, lack of supervision in deplorable sanitary conditions favours the contraction of all kinds of disease.

This time lost in fetching water also means less time for agricultural or income-generating activities (even more so since women are mainly in charge of agriculture).

Keeping vegetable gardens is often a good way of securing a varied diet and adequate intake of vitamins and minerals. Handcraft and commercial activities frequently allow families - and especially women - to improve their living conditions.

The constructions of modern water infrastructure near houses allows families to free themselves from a chore that directly affects their health, especially their children's, and to diversify their income and diet. In order for action to have a lasting impact, projects must choose the most appropriate technique and train users in maintenance.

Case study: Haiti, north west region and Ile de la Tortue

The poorest country in Latin America, Haiti has for many years undergone a succession of authoritarian regimes and political and economic crises.

In the absence of State solutions to problems, Action Against Hunger has started a water supply and sanitation programme for 20,000 beneficiaries in the north west of the country and Ile de la Tortue, setting up networks and training the people to maintain them.

In the district of Saint Louis du Nord, work on the drinking water network, water management support, rehabilitation/ improvement of rain and waste water removal systems, setting up of a system of collection for household waste, construction of school latrines.

In the La Tortue district: spring catchment and construction of family cisterns.

B. Guaranteeing the long-term benefits of intervention

Faced with the damage caused by crises, Action Against Hunger has different responses adapted to different needs. The idea is to involve the beneficiaries in order to make the works longer lasting, at the same time promoting hygiene in order to limit the risk of disease.

Involvement of beneficiaries

The participation of beneficiaries at different stages of the programme is fundamental: identification of needs, design of response strategy (the resident population often knows most about the characteristics and variations of its own water resources), set-up, maintenance. This involvement guarantees the actions' pertinence and long-term benefits in relation to needs. The level of involvement varies from simple consultation to helping to carry out the work, depending on the circumstances of the intervention.

It can be noted that displaced populations are more difficult to mobilise than settled populations.

In some cases, the community has a direct financial involvement, for example via a cashbox for facility maintenance managed by the village; this should not however constitute an exclusive criterion of involvement.

Prior to any intervention, an agreement should be made with the community to establish the objectives, plan the work to be done as well as each person's responsibility.

Transferring knowledge

The transfer of knowledge is also indispensable and should go hand in hand with the execution of the works. We can distinguish between training that aims to make teams autonomous from a technical point of view, and user training.

Training can be carried out on site on a day-to-day basis or can be planned with committee members and technicians to capitalise on experience, highlight local successes and benefit all the partners.

The beneficiaries of each training session can be members of civil society, where the country is still in the grip of political crisis, or government representatives if the country is in the reconstruction phase.

Long-term benefits of projects

How permanent the work is depends above all on how well it was carried out and on training local partners in maintenance.

The infrastructures put in place must be reliable: quality is the main factor in how long they will last and makes maintenance all the easier.

Works maintenance is high priority and should be borne in mind from the very beginning. Putting a maintenance structure in place is indispensable and should be considered an integral part of the project. The most realistic option is often to devolve responsibility for maintenance to a local management committee. This committee is constituted by the community and made up of managers (president, treasurer) and technicians (well sinker, village repair man). Its role is to collect (potentially) user contributions, plan and carry out maintenance and repairs to infrastructure, in other words to promote hygiene at the heart of the community.

In situations of humanitarian crisis, mobilising the population is much more difficult; special attention should therefore be given to the overlapping or transitional period between the emergency and longer-term programmes (spare parts, maintenance person taken on by the project).

Hygiene promotion

Hygiene promotion is essential and complements the construction of infrastructure. The objective is to raise the users' awareness of the importance, health-wise, of clean drinking water and to modify hygiene and water related behaviours.

Three main subjects are covered: conserving the quality of well water from drawing to consumption, and personal hygiene and the public health environment.

Case study: Mandera district (Kenya)

The Mandera district is situated in a very arid area in the North East of Kenya on the border with Somalia. It is populated by ethnic Somalis and was extremely isolated from the rest of Kenya during the colonial period. This political isolation led to the development of local bandit groups, which the Kenyan government spent years fighting from its independence in 1963, and was made more acute by Mandera's relative unimportance in terms of national food production. In fact, due to the extreme climactic conditions, the weak population density and the predominantly nomadic clan communities (Somali Muslim), this district bears a much closer resemblance to Somalia than to Kenya.

Mandera district has suffered acute drought over the past five years, which has created a situation of extremely high vulnerability. Action Against Hunger has developed significant capability in the related fields of water, sanitation and food security adapted to the area.

Most of the pastoralist communities in the grazing areas depend on rainwater which is collected in artificial reservoirs dug by the population, and is used for both domestic and livestock consumption. The objective of Action Against Hunger's programme, set up in July 2002, is to increase the capacity of these reservoirs, thereby increasing the amount of water available. Desilting is carried out with the help of local vulnerable people through a community 'cash for work' programme.

It has also been necessary to increase access to separate drinking water since the water used for livestock was highly contaminated by animal waste. Taking advantage of the district's sandy soil, infiltration wells for human consumption were dug around the reservoirs using local material and labour, which provides work opportunities for the most vulnerable members of the communities.

Completing its integrated approach in water and hygiene, Action Against Hunger is constructing individual household latrines, which will limit the dissemination of excreta. This programme component is particularly pertinent for the women, who suffered most from having to use the surrounding bush for defecation because of religious limitations and lack of privacy provided by the bare landscape.

All these activities are supplemented with training sessions of basic health and hygiene promotion in collaboration with the District Public Health Department.

This programme is an example of an integrated approach to an ethnic population (predominantly nomadic and pastoralist) in a very specific context, and of the use of local know-how in implementing a coherent water access and public health programme.

Action Against Hunger and water: field action and technical development

In addition to its actions, Action Against Hunger has a water and drainage department that develops numerous tools allowing the organisation to be present on all fronts.

A. Action Against Hunger and water: actions

Water is one of the best weapons against hunger.

Access to drinking water and to better sanitary conditions allows us to improve the state of health of populations, by avoiding the propagation of disease.

Our action consists of supplying vulnerable populations (displaced people, refugees, minority groups) with access to drinking water.

Action Against Hunger's team

The water and drainage department team is multidisciplinary, made up of hydraulic technicians and engineers, hydro geologists, and civil engineers. It brings together 55 volunteers in the field and six based in Paris, London, New York and Paris. Hydraulic specialists account for 18 per cent of our organisation.

When do we intervene?

  • When lack of water is a survival issue

  • When the distance from the water point is impeding the community's socio-economic development - the water point should be made accessible for daily use

  • When the quality of the water consumed carries risks of epidemics of water-borne diseases and threatens a group as a whole

  • When the sanitary environment and hygiene practices carry significant public health risks

  • When the community supports the project and shows aptitude for getting involved in the medium term

Key figures for 2001

  • 1,500 water points installed
  • 800 wells
  • 240 sinkings
  • 4,780 latrines built
  • 1,055 water management committees set up
  • 5,790 sanitary education sessions carried out

Areas of technical development

Hydro geology

The water and drainage department is recognised for its ability to set up underground water exploitation projects. Techniques currently used by the organisation are implantation and exploitation studies, digging and creating wells, and spring catchment.

Water treatment and distribution

In many rural areas and zones around urban centres, it is possible to set up gravity-flow water systems linked to a pumping station or spring catchment.

Irrigated agriculture and pastorialism

Action Against Hunger operates in numerous rural zones that have been weakened by conflicts or by significant climactic disruption. Thus irrigation and livestock water provision projects are frequently undertaken in collaboration with the food security department.

Reinforcement of water management and hygiene promotion capacities

In order to ensure the long-term nature of the projects and populations' autonomy, all programmes include a reinforcement of local capacities and hygiene promotion element.

Water management and maintenance are recurrent themes as are the drawing, transport, storage and consumption of water. Information on water related diseases is an area of priority in awareness-raising.

B. Technical development, research, expertise sharing, and internal and external coordination

Action Against Hunger has a real desire to share its expertise. To this end, it has various information projects such as a reference book and a CD Rom, some intended as reference materials for anyone who wants to learn about water, and others as training aids for expatriates and local staff.

Capitalisation, consultation and training tools

1. Reference book on water supply for populations under threat 5: a new edition is planned for 2003, and an English version for 2004. Funding is being sought to produce a Spanish version.

2. Interactive CD Rom of the above reference book, in three languages: available in 2003.

3. Interactive module on Water and Drainage Emergencies, in three languages.

4. Interactive module on hygiene and water use and management, in three languages, CD Rom and documents on capitalisation of experience: currently being prepared.

Please contact Action Against Hunger for further information.

Internal and external coordination

Action Against Hunger and its other headquarters in France, Spain and New York share a common strategy regarding objectives and functioning and work collaboratively.

The organisation also holds periodic international technical meetings with other NGOs working in the field of water and drainage. The last of these took place in Madrid in April 2002 and involved the NGOs MSF Belgium, MSF France, MSF Holland, IFRC, Oxfam, UNHCR and IRC, as well a university and a private water analysis company.

Water related events

Due to its proven track record in the field of water, Action Against Hunger takes part in numerous water related events.


- International Year of Freshwater - 2003

- The Third World Water Forum in Kyoto from 16-23 March, which will look at how water resources are valued and managed. Organised every three years by the World Water Council, this global forum aims to raise the political world's awareness of the importance of water, to generate political commitment and to allow an inter-sector and inter-regional dialogue to develop. Action Against Hunger will be present at this event.

- 22 March - International Day of Freshwater. A day that has been dedicated to water since 1993 thanks to a United Nations resolution (resolution 47/193).

Past events

- The Convention on shared watercourses, developed within the framework of the International Law Commission, which took 25 years to see the light of day (but has yet to be put into place because of political obstacles), signed in May 1997. The convention is already out of date because it fails to make the link between water and sustainable development, and in addition certain countries such as China and Turkey have still to sign it.

- International manifesto for a world contract on water (1998), which proposes to create, alongside the large international institutions, a world water parliament bringing together 800 elected representatives from every country in the world. It is essential to make populations aware of the risks of this water shortage.

- World summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg (26 August to 4 September 2002) made freshwater its new cause. The 'Water for Life' initiative aims to allow access to drinking water and drainage. This is a community initiative to help the African countries and the NGOs there, but also to encourage private enterprise to be active in this field.

In fact, every year some European budgets remain unused due to a lack of projects. The 'Water for Life' initiative will intervene in two main areas: Access to water and drainage; and Setting up management programmes.

The EU is following up on this ambitious project, using a regional approach, improved coordination and a greater degree of transparency.

- 27 November 2002, Geneva: water was inscribed in the basic human rights by the United Nations Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


1 WHO 2001

2 Speech, Kofi Annan 30/08/2002, Johannesburg summit.

3 FAO 2001

4 Extracts of a preliminary report (July 2002) on the right to food by Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the right to food

5 Alimentation en eau des populations menaces [Water supply for populations under threat’], Eric Drouart and Jean-Michel Vouillamoz, Hermann (June 1999). An English translation will soon be available.

6 Created in 1993 as an initiative of the French Environment Ministry and France’s six regional water boards. The Water Academy’s mission is to promote forward-thinking and interdisciplinary reflection on the management of water resources.

7 Source: Water UK (

8 Project set up by several humanitarian agencies, developing a humanitarian charter and a set of universal minimum standards in the essential fields of humanitarian aid: supplying water, drainage, nutrition, food aid, shelter, and medical centres and services.

9 UNDP report, 1999

10 Extracts of a preliminary report (July 2001) on the right to food by Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the right to food

11 The World Health Organisation considers that in difficult circumstances 12 to 20 litres of water per person per day can be enough for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene and cleaning.

Press contact:

Sophie Noonan/ Cara Wilkins
+ 44 (0) 20 7394 6300
+ 44 (0)7866 546 843