A guidance for UNHCR field operations on water and sanitation services

Manual and Guideline
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  1. Background

1.1 Introduction: Water and Sanitation & UNHCR’s Goals

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has the mandate on behalf of the international community to pursue protection, assistance and solutions for refugees. This entails a fundamental responsibility of providing legal security (asylum, non-refoulement and full enjoyment of human rights), physical safety (against natural or man-made threats) and material assistance (basic necessities of life). Provision of water cuts across all of these areas as it is a basic human right for the survival, health and well-being of the refugees.

Water and sanitation are essential to life, health, livelihood and dignity and is a basic human right -Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Article 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family”. Indeed, water is a food in its own right without which humans can survive normally not more than 3 to 5 days. Timely and adequate provision of clean water to refugees is of special importance given that they have traditionally faced difficulties in fully exercising their rights and are very prone to exploitation (Shrestha and Cronin, 2006). Of equal importance is the provision of adequate sanitation and this includes excreta disposal, management of solid waste, proper medical waste disposal, control of waste water and drainage and also control of vectors of communicable diseases including mosquitoes, rats, mice and flies.

In addition, any water and sanitation program in isolation of proper hygiene promotion and implementation will not be effective in preventing diseases and deaths, and resulting suffering among the affected population. UNHCR staff need to be fully aware of such issues and the consequences of insufficient water and sanitation service provision, which becomes even crucial in emergency situations.