Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Post-Emergency Contexts: A study on establishing sustainable service delivery models

from Oxfam, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 04 Dec 2018 View Original


Delivering water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in response to emergencies is difficult work. However, the transition from emergency to post-emergency and longer-term recovery is arguably even more challenging. The key consideration is how emergency WASH services will be managed in the long term when humanitarian agencies depart and government institutions lack capacity in terms of skills, knowledge and resources. In professional emergency response, services are often provided free of charge and are delivered with minimal participation by users. National and local government institutions may be sidelined or may be unwilling to assume responsibility during the acute phase of a response, and institutional capacity, as well as credible governance and finance mechanisms, may be lacking. This means that sustainability of service delivery is difficult to achieve.

Against this backdrop, UNHCR and Oxfam commissioned a study to look at sustainable WASH service delivery models in humanitarian contexts. The study was concerned primarily with the transition to and management of post-emergency situations. This is an area of work that is much neglected, with very little documentation of professional good practice. Methods of analysis for the study included a short literature review, field visits to Ethiopia, Lebanon, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania and key informant interviews with senior WASH sector professionals.

Large-scale human displacement within or across national borders often results in the establishment of densely populated camps and settlements. In such situations, water and sanitation demands are more like the requirements of a city or a town than those of a rural community. Emergency WASH systems are frequently large-scale and require relatively sophisticated technology. In the short to medium term these services are generally operated and maintained by humanitarian agencies, but at some stage they will need to be managed by other entities. Management structures have to address a wide range of operational, commercial and financial duties, which means that they should be professionalized rather than relying on volunteerism from users. They must be accountable to poor and vulnerable members of affected communities and not driven by profit, though they will need to be financially sustainable.

This study draws attention to four important considerations. The first is the requirement to strengthen standards of WASH service delivery. This is needed because serious failings in the quality of implementation will act as a deterrent for any future management operator. The second concerns the need to rationalize the number of INGOs and UN agencies involved in the post-emergency phase, so that water supply and sanitation services can gradually become viable business models and financially sustainable. The third requirement is to conduct an assessment of the enabling environment (i.e. conditions), which will help to determine the most realistic service delivery model. This will depend on the context. The fourth requirement is to encourage government to set clear policy and strategy directions. This requires mandated institutions (service authorities) to articulate realistic levels of service performance so that business models and financial plans can be established accordingly.