Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

A global organisation that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation..
Our purpose is clear: we work in partnership with a global community of humanitarian actors, researchers and innovators to improve the quality of humanitarian action and deliver better outcomes for people affected by crises.
We empower the humanitarian community. Find out how we can support you...
Gravit`eau handwashing system in a healthcare facility in Mali. Credit: Terre des Hommes.

At present, roughly half the world’s population experience water scarcity for at least one month of the year (IPCC), with 733 million people living in high and critically water-stressed countries (UN Water). The impacts of water scarcity are numerous and widespread, leading to food insecurity, greater vulnerability to droughts and flooding, poor sanitation and increased risk of disease. In a more water scarce and unstable world, it’s vital that we target our funding and advocacy efforts better, to find innovative solutions to water shortages and ensure access to clean water for all.

From August 20-24, World Water Week returns for its 32nd year. The 2023 event aims to build on the conversations sparked at the recent UN Water Conference, discussing water’s role in health, development, climate resilience, cooperation, and drawing focus to the Water Action Decade, which runs until 2028.

This year’s theme is ‘Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World’, and poses the question: Which ideas, innovations, and governance systems will we need in a more unstable and water scarce world? It’s a theme based on the understanding that although we cannot turn back the clock on the current water crisis, we can use innovations in technology, policy and behavioural change to ease the burden caused by some of the most pressing challenges – including the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and poverty.

Innovators like Faircap are producing low-cost, durable solutions to clean water access. Credit: Faircap

Our Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) and Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) programmes are both committed to supporting research and innovation (R&I) in the wider water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) space, helping to inform more tailored and coordinated responses to future crises.

Alongside funding research and innovations aimed at improving quality, management and access to clean water, both programmes have undertaken exercises to explore the gaps in R&I within the WASH sector:

The R2HC’s recently launched WASH Research Agenda engaged hundreds of researchers, practitioners, donors and government staff to identify the key research questions in humanitarian WASH that need to be addressed by 2030. Improving access to and quantity of water was one of the top 20 research topics identified. The report further highlights evidence gaps around how to create climate-resilient water supply systems, the effectiveness of improved access to safe water in controlling disease outbreaks, and how best to support people affected by crises to access safe, sufficient and sustainable drinking water at a reasonable cost.

The HIF-funded WASH Gap Analysis engaged over 1,700 people affected by crisis and nearly 1,000 WASH practitioners to identify what both users and practitioners felt were the critical gaps in WASH interventions and services. By including people affected by crisis, we gained a unique perspective as the gaps they identified differed from those picked out by service providers and other humanitarian actors. Notably, the need for water supply and provision was the most frequently mentioned gap in service delivery for people affected by crisis and in-country practitioners.

Together, these studies highlight the importance of both research and innovation for a water-wise world and provide recommendations for future focus in both fields. But they’re just a drop in the ocean. To make any impact on the daunting challenge of our growing water crisis, we will need collaboration across sectors and borders, as well as between thinkers and doers to bring innovative solutions to water scarcity in fragile settings. We have already begun some of this work through our funding calls and commissioned research, some of which you can explore here:


WASH Research Priority Setting

Drawn from a consultation with nearly 300 WASH practitioners, our recently published agenda for research into WASH in humanitarian crises identifies the research gaps that should be prioritised to meet policy and practice needs by 2030.

WASH Gap Analysis

Our WASH gap analysis demonstrates that humanitarian response is still falling short of delivering basic services, showing how we need more innovative, smarter solutions in an unstable world.

Humanitarian Health Evidence Review

This 2021 flagship report highlighted several gaps in the evidence base for water interventions, including water quality interventions beyond point of use.

Establishing evidence for common-but-underresearched WASH cholera interventions

Led by a team from Tufts University, this research assessed the effectiveness of common WASH cholera interventions, including water treatments such as bucket chlorination.

Alternative Sanitation in Protracted Emergencies

This project provided evidence for urine-diverting dry toilets as alternative sanitation in settings with limited water or those at risk of flooding.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Safe Drinking Water in SAM Treatment

This study compared the effectiveness of different water treatments in the management of severe and acute malnutrition.


Faircap Mini Water Filter – a Faircap Open Water Project Product

A small, low-cost and portable water filter designed to fit a standard plastic bottle and remove sediment and bacteria to provide clean drinking water to people in fragile or unstable settings. Find out more about the Faircap Mini and other Faircap products.

Safe Water Optimization Tool – keeping water safe to drink – from the tapstand to the last cup

A web-based tool that uses numerical modelling and machine learning to assess water quality and issues guidance for optimal chlorine treatment.

Waterscope – Smart, simple water testing for all

A water testing kit that uses machine learning to identify bacterial presence and enables inclusive access to smart, rapid, easy-to-use testing in resource scarce environments. It is also battery powered and can be used in even the most remote locations.

Gravit’eau – Handwashing where it doesn’t happen

A low-maintenance handwashing unit that recycles water, reducing actual water use to 5ml per handwash to enable handwashing in water scarce environments.

Oxfam Handwashing Station- Handwashing at scale

This durable, water-conserving handwashing innovation has been thoroughly field-tested and adapted to meet community needs over four years, making it a smart solution for fragile contexts.

Get in touch

Our Senior Innovation Manager for WASH, Ruth Salmon, will be at the World Water Week 2023 conference from 20-24 Aug, so do reach out to her at to learn more about our work.

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