WASH services must meet basic needs: to provide them in sufficient quantity and quality is urgent for people to survive and stay in good health. Inadequate quantities and poor quality of water, insufficient latrines or open defecation, and poorly set up waste disposal or drainage systems, will lead to illnesses such as diarrhoea and cholera. Therefore, they are among the most vital and very first services provided in a camp. It is the shared responsibility of the Camp Management Agency, WASH service providers and national authorities to reduce the risks of water borne diseases.

Due to their life-saving nature, WASH services need to be planned and carried out with the utmost care and responsibility towards the camp population in order to ensure acceptability, usage and adequate maintenance. The planning, implementation and monitoring of WASH services must be based on technical excellence and a sound understanding of the physical and environmental characteristics of the camp, cultural habits and norms, and the specific needs and protection of vulnerable user groups. In many camp situations, women and girls are responsible for cooking, cleaning, washing and fetching water for their households. They are thus often exposed to a higher risk of abuse and sexual violence. WASH providers and the Camp Management Agency need to take into account safety aspects, and make sure that latrines and other WASH infrastructure are placed where they can be protected and allow safe access for women and girls by day and at night. Although sometimes difficult to promote, participation of women and girls, men and boys in the planning, implementation and maintenance of WASH services is crucial.

☞ For more information on gender and specific needs, see Chapter 11, Protection of Persons with Specific Needs.


Objectives of WASH Programmes

The main objective of WASH programmes in disasters is to reduce the transmission of faeco-oral diseases and exposure to disease-bearing vectors through the promotion of:

  • good hygiene practices
  • provision of safe drinking water
  • reduction of environmental health risks
  • conditions that allow people to live with good health, dignity, comfort and security.

The Sphere Project, 2011. Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response.


WASH services provided in camps should ensure compliance with international or national agreed upon standards and indicators. They guide and support humanitarian organisations in how to best ensure displaced people’s right to life in safety and dignity and can help measure the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian interventions.


Where to Find International WASH Standards and Indicators

A Camp Management Agency should have available in its office at least one copy of both The Sphere Project’s Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, also known as the Sphere Standards Handbook, and the UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies. These are standard guidance for humanitarian organisations operating in camps. They consist of guidelines, rules, standards and indicators that every member of a Camp Management Agency’s staff needs to be aware of.


To ensure quality, accountability and effectiveness of WASH services, frequent monitoring must be carried out. The primary responsibility lies with the WASH provider, in collaboration with the relevant authorities and, secondly, with the Camp Management Agency in its role as overall coordinator of humanitarian service provision within a camp. Effective coordination between WASH providers and the Camp Management Agency is vital as they need to work hand-in-hand and clearly communicate their mutual roles and responsibilities to camp residents and the national authorities.

Failure to ensure the basic WASH requirements of other services may decrease their efficiency. Failure to ensure camp design incorporates the needs of WASH services may lead to negative impacts on health, the environment and the host community. Provisions to ensure adequate WASH services and links between sectors should be considered throughout a camp’s life cycle from planning, set-up and maintenance, to closure.