WASH in conflict zones

Date: 10th November 2010

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Every day WSSCC members work steadfastly towards providing water, sanitation and hygiene for people who lack access. Some of our WASH Coalitions encounter the added challenge of labouring towards this goal in conflict zones, where hundreds of thousands of people can be displaced, forced to abandon their homes and resettle in other areas. In 2007, there were 26 million internally displaced persons in at least 52 countries as a result of conflict . Public toilets, water storage, distribution infrastructure, and homes can all be destroyed in military operations. When ensuring the safety of their family becomes people’s number one priority, sanitation can slip down the list.

The National WASH Coalition in the Philippines works in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where conflict over autonomy and leadership has been going on for more than 40 years. The Coalition teaches people about design, operation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation systems. They promote low cost WASH technologies through hands-on trainings and poster campaigns, to show people that water and sanitation need not be expensive, even when they need to be re-established post-conflict. Lyn Capistrano, the National Co-ordinator for the Philippines WASH Coalition, says, “If fighting breaks out, people can take the knowledge with them wherever they may resettle. They do not have to depend on government funds.” She adds that with low-cost technologies, the low expenses tend to discourage incidence of corruption or funds going amiss.

The National WASH Coalition in Sri Lanka has worked to re-establish water, sanitation and hygiene services following the tsunami disaster in 2004, with successful action and mobilisation in all areas to support resettlement. More recently the Sri Lanka Coalition has been focusing on WASH support in the conflict-affected areas in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The main challenge at the moment is providing water and sanitation facilities and hygiene education to about 270,000 displaced people temporarily resettled in the welfare villages. Lal Premanath, the National Co-ordinator for the Sri Lanka Coalition, says, “Health education is very important to ensure that people understand the water supply and sanitation needs from the beginning.” The process of resettlement of people in their own areas will commence very soon. During this process, provision of water and sanitation will be one of the key issues to be addressed by the WASH coalition. Mr. Premanath says that this is an important step in fostering a WASH culture for the future.

For links to other resources on this topic, download the ‘WSSCC Reference Note Disaster Risk Reduction & Emergency Response’ for WASH at www.wsscc.org. For more information please contact Lyn. Capistrano (The Philippines) at capistranolyn@gmail.com or Lal Premanath (Sri Lanka) at gm@waterboard.lk

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