Water, sanitation and hygiene

Anthony Mwang
Image: Anthony Mwang
Water, sanitation and hygiene & our work throughout the world

Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) is a commonly used method for improving water and sanitation.

People observe their own hygiene practices and thereby understand how disease spreads. At the same time, information on the prevention of disease is distributed and practical work is carried out to improve the hygiene situation.

Participatory hygiene and sanitation transformation: A new approach to working with communities

Lack of clean water and toilets combined with poor hygiene awareness is one of the most important causes of disease – and very often also a common cause of death. Clean water alone is not enough. Toilets, sewers and hand-washing are also always needed.

  • More than one billion people have no access to clean water.
  • More than three billion people don't have toilets.
  • More than two million children, mostly under the age of five, die every year because of diseases caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene.
  • More than 54 million disability adjusted life years (DALY) are lost every year as a result of dirty water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

The lack of drinkable water, toilets and cleanliness causes even worse problems in times of disasters and crisis.

Water and sanitation issues are almost always included in the disaster, health and development cooperation projects of the Red Cross. Health and well-being cannot be obtained without clean water and sanitation. Guidelines were prepared in 2003, specifying and mapping operations required for improving the situation of water, sanitation and hygiene.

During the past decade, the water and sanitation expertise of the Red Cross has benefited:

  • six million people in connection with disaster relief,
  • three million people through long-term programmes and
  • a total of 14 million are expected to benefit by 2015.

Red Cross volunteers, delegates and local staff respond to disasters quickly with their skills and equipment.

The disaster preparedness units and emergency aid packages for water and sanitation may ensure the health of tens of thousands of people in case of disaster. In the preparedness system of the Finnish Red Cross, a separate water and sanitation component is included in the health units. Also the procurement of an independent water and sanitation unit is being prepared.

Water and sanitation programmes are a central link when moving from disaster relief to long-term development cooperation.

The UN General Assembly has declared access to clean drink water and sanitation a human right that belongs to everyone. According to the World Health Organisation, the number of people living without clean water and sanitation may increase to 5.5 billion within the next twenty years.

Red Cross:

  • works at a community level to ensure access to clean water and safe toilets
  • organises hygiene education
  • encourages national health authorities to observe water and sanitation as well as hygiene education in their health policies.

Local knowledge is essential in water and toilet projects. Commitment at a village level and of local authorities is imperative for continuity. In this case, life-saving knowledge and skills live on after the project ends.

The union of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent work in cooperation with, among others, Oxfam, Unicef, UNHRC and Doctors Without Borders in matters related to water and sanitation, both in disaster relief and in development cooperation programmes. Discussions aiming at common standards, amongst others, are ongoing. Also know-how and experience are shared.