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The humanitarian water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector is falling short of providing the service people affected by crisis want, need, and expect, according to our new report published with the Global WASH Cluster and Oxfam.  

Gaps in WASH in Humanitarian Response: 2021 Update incorporates the views and experiences of more than 1,700 people affected by crisis and nearly 700 in-country WASH practitioners, and is the most comprehensive and inclusive research project of its kind in the humanitarian sector. 

The report, which aims to give people affected by crises more say in the WASH assistance they get and how they receive it, highlights that the long-term delivery of WASH facilities in emergencies falls short of the expectations of local populations and identifies a number of priority gaps in humanitarian WASH systems and responses, including: 

  • water supply and provision; 
  • sanitation access and cover;
  • hygiene practices and knowledge;
  • solid waste disposal. 

With increasing humanitarian emergencies leaving more people at risk, we need evidence-based strategies to provide effective humanitarian responses,” said Cecilie Hestbæk, Head of Humanitarian Innovation Fund, Elrha.  

People affected by crises should have more say in the type of assistance they get and how they get it, and this gap analysisis an important contribution to that accountability agenda.”

But how our sector responds to these findings is crucial. As a funder of humanitarian innovation and research, we need to dig deeper now to explore the root causes of these gaps and understand where new technical or systems solutions are needed, working in collaboration to identify the most promising innovation opportunities.

ThGap Analysis, which builds on our 2013 emergency WASH Gap Analysispresents data based on direct feedback from 1,738 people affected by crises across 30 countries. It highlights gaps prioritised by nearly 700 WASH practitioners across 24 countries as well as 256 global WASH actors across 64 countries, which included a mix of practitioners, WASH experts at organisations’ headquarters, donors and consultants. 

This information was gathered during 2020 through focus group discussions, a global survey and case studies in a broad partnership between Elrha, the Global WASH Cluster, Oxfam, Tufts University, Cranfield University and University of Leeds.

The gap analysis reveals significant discrepancies between the importance given to certain problems by people affected by crisis compared to INGO workers and existing literature. 

Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation for Oxfam, said: “This 2021 humanitarian WASH Gap Analysis is different from the one carried out in 2013 as this time we have the feedback from crises-affected populations covering 30 countries, which is the first time this has ever been done in the humanitarian WASH sector. ”

“The results from the study will influence where WASH agencies and donors focus their attention to address the gaps identified – the main one being that the long-term service delivery of WASH facilities in emergencies falls way short of populations’ expectations.” 

Alongside the gaps it has identified, the report’s findings suggest a need to improve feedback and accountability mechanisms; to design provision based on what is needed and valued locally rather than focusing solely on ensuring global standards are met; and considering WASH outcomes that reflect what matters to communities.

Monica Ramos, Global WASH Cluster Coordinator, said: “The results shown in the report are crucial for national humanitarian WASH coordination platforms. The emphasis on the voice of the affected populations sets this report apart and highlights that inclusive, people-centred programming be better integrated at the centre of WASH responses. This coupled with the simple and easy-to-use database aims to better coordinate and inform on-going needs analysis and strategic planning. 

“We, at the Global WASH Cluster, see this as a great tool for implementing partners and practitioners to take action and ensure timely, predictable and high-quality WASH service delivery for those most affected by crisis. In my role, I encourage the broad dissemination of the 2021 Gap Analysis and advocate the immediate uptake in WASH responses.”

The 2021 Gap Analysis package including the full report can be accessed here.

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