Water Access in Emergencies
Hygiene promotion fits intrinsically with the principles of PCR; the need to involve the community
in promoting and spreading knowledge of hygienic practise is key to ensuring standards are kept
up. General information on how to involve the community in decision making can be found in
Practical Action’s PCR Tools. Additionally, WEDC provide an information sheet on basics of
emergency hygiene promotion here, and Engineering in Emergencies provides guidance in its
‘Environmental Health’ chapter.
Another approach is that of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which aims to encourage
communal responsibility for safe hygienic practise by promoting a sense of disgust about the poor
disposal of human waste and faecal matter. A participatory approach is essential to the success of
this method, and must include people from the very beginning. The Institute of Development
Studies at Sussex University has published a guide to CLTS processes, available here.
Establishing a keen sense of hygienic responsibility is essential in an emergency relief context,
and the inclusion of participatory approaches can translate well to later stages of the
Monitor and evaluate
Once the necessary infrastructure has been installed, it is vital that all areas are monitored
consistently; any changes in water demand, supply or quality must be recorded and acted upon as
soon as possible. Efforts should be co-ordinated with health workers to ensure that the supply
isn’t having a negative effect on the health of the displaced population. This is another area where
the inclusion of those affected can lead to greater integration of people into participatory
This brief will now look at some basic methods of supply from rainwater, surface water and
The size of the contribution rainwater can make to supplies in an emergency situation is highly
dependent on a variety of factors:
Local rainfall patterns
Time of year
Type of emergency shelter used
Availability of storage
In general, an assessment should not include rainwater in its considerations, unless the local
rainfall pattern can be accurately predicted. In cases where rainfall can be utilised, every effort
should be made to gather as much as possible (UNHCR, 2007).
Rainwater harvest techniques generally consist of diversion, guttering and storage facilities
(described in the Practical Action technical brief Rainwater Harvesting during Reconstruction);
advanced techniques utilise specially designed equipment of robust design, but that is often not
available in emergency scenarios.
However, the principle of directing and storing rainwater can be achieved with simple methods,
such as tent canvasses leading to buckets. It may also be possible to implement more advanced
rainwater harvest techniques such as guttering and first flush systems on communal buildings,
which may be built with a transitional structure.
A benefit of collecting rainwater over groundwater is the improved turbidity (resulting in more
efficient treatment techniques) and taste (Burt, M. & Keiru, B. 2009). Some very basic examples
of RWH in an emergency are demonstrated in the pictures below: