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.
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A glimpse into daily struggles – man drawing water from a hole. Credit: Susana Vera/ Action Against Hunger

Safe drinking water is essential to life, and yet 2 billion people globally do not have access to it (UN Water). Each year on 22 March, World Water Day aims to address a key issue creating barriers to safe, accessible water, and the ongoing effects of those barriers can create for people and communities around the world.

For 2024, the theme is ‘Leveraging Water for Peace’, highlighting the critical role water plays in the stability and prosperity of the world. Scarce, polluted or inaccessible water can be a source of conflict between communities as unequal use and access leads to heightened tensions. Water can also be a casualty of conflict, where water becomes the target of attacks or used as a means of controlling populations.

Prolonged, escalating conflict is also a driver of humanitarian crisis, where violence, contamination or infrastructure breakdown can result in irrevocable damage to water systems and compromise safe water sources, gravely affecting the health of surrounding communities and displacing many more. Providing safe water and sanitation facilities in these contexts is crucial for preserving life, health, and dignity.

Since our inception, we have championed research and innovation that breaks down barriers to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in humanitarian settings, from identifying key gaps in humanitarian WASH programming, to supporting projects that improve the ease and equity of access to safe water and sanitation services.

Here we showcase some of our funded work, and our grantees and partners:



Cranfield University, Elrha, Oxfam GB, Tufts University, University of Leeds

Our 2021 Wash Gap Analysis set out to answer big questions around the priorities and limitations in existing global WASH programming and innovation. The report was informed by some of the most comprehensive data collection of its kind, involving over 1,700 people affected by crises and more than 900 WASH practitioners.

Alongside deep-dives into the primary issues affecting WASH in humanitarian settings, the report posed further questions for researchers, coordinators, funding bodies, humanitarian practitioners and innovators for how steps could be taken within their fields to start addressing these gaps. Further analysis of the data put forward a six-step methodology to identify innovation opportunities in these contexts – this methodology was piloted in 2022 by conducting research into solid waste management in refugee settlements and internally displaced people (IDP) camps in Uganda and Somalia.

WASH Research Priority Settings

Action Contre La Faim France, Global WASH Cluster, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Tufts University

The WASH research priority setting was conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Tufts University in collaboration with the Global WASH cluster. Launched last year, the  work was informed by the Global WASH Cluster’s Humanitarian WASH Roadmap (2020-25) which called for an initiative focusing on R&I, highlighting the need for a more evidence-informed humanitarian WASH response.

The WASH in crises research agenda serves as a guide for researchers, humanitarian practitioners and funding agencies, providing a prioritised list of research questions that, when answered, will contribute to improved WASH policy and practice in humanitarian crises.

The agenda has three objectives: 1) To identify areas of consensus on research gaps that should be prioritised to meet WASH policy and practice needs. 2) To direct donor funding towards these priorities. 3) To foster a collaborative environment for WASH in crises research that facilitates dialogue between implementers, researchers and policymakers.

Establishing evidence for common-but-under-researched WASH cholera interventions

Tufts University, IFRC, Médecins sans Frontières, Solidarites and AIDES 

Preventing transmission of cholera remains an important priority in many countries and humanitarian settings. This study from Tufts conducted lab-testing, as well as field evaluations of some commonly used interventions for reducing cholera’s spread to produce recommendations for WASH practitioners and policymakers. 

The field evaluations took place in Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, and Nigeria, and involved testing the effectiveness of using chlorine to spray and wipe down household surfaces, and chlorinating buckets or other water storage containers. The study team is currently working with the Global Task Force for Cholera Control (GTFCC) to develop guidance for these interventions. 

Effectiveness study of the Jengu Handwashing Unit to increase handwashing in among crisis affected populations 

British Red Cross, APHRC, IFRC, Field Ready, LSHTM, Kenya Red Cross, Uganda Red Cross, ARUP 

The Jengu Handwashing Unit was developed by Arup in 2018 to provide durable handwashing units for use in humanitarian settings. This ongoing research study led by the British Red Cross seeks to understand the ‘life-cycle’ of handwashing infrastructure, assessing whether providing communities affected by crises with increased access to desirable and durable handwashing facilities will lead to improvements in handwashing behaviour, and whether investing in more robust and behaviour-centric infrastructure will result in improved and sustained handwashing practices. 



Faircap, Action Against Hunger, ADKOUL, Juba Foundation

Faircap has designed a small, robust, easy-to-use, high-flow water purification device that can be screwed on or adapted to existing water containers such as drums, buckets, or tanks of water.

The Faircap family filter can eliminate turbidity, bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and even viruses causing gastrointestinal diseases without the use of chemicals or external energy. The kit is designed to be light enough for easy transportation to affected areas and for local installation.

Action Against Hunger, in collaboration with local partners ADKOUL and the Juba Foundation, is currently implementing the Faircap Family filter within conflict and displacement-affected regions of Niger and Somalia. This initiative aims to both deploy the filter and gather substantial evidence regarding its effectiveness.

Safe Water Optimization Tool (SWOT) 

Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, Médecins sans Frontières, Tufts University, Oxfam 

Waterborne diseases are among the leading cases of morbidity and mortality in refugee and IDP camps. While chlorination is a safe and effective way to remove pathogens and protect water supplies against recontamination, current global guidelines for chlorination (such as Sphere) are not based on evidence from humanitarian settings. The ‘one size fits all’ approach used at present isn’t sufficient to ensure water is protected for long enough to prevent recontamination. 

SWOT is a web-based water quality modelling tool that provides reliable, bespoke guidance for chlorine treatment, considering environmental factors such as temperature, handling practices and storage types. Humanitarian responders submit data on chlorine decay from the point the treated water is poured to the point it is consumed. The tool then uses machine-learning and numerical modelling to provide them with an optimised chlorination target that ensures water will be safe to drink for as long as needed.  


WaterScope, Oxfam UK, Aquaya, Tearfund 

With waterborne diseases accounting for more than half a million deaths per year, it is crucial that water-testing kits be made available in regions where water supplies may be contaminated. However, many of the kits currently available to test for bacteria are time-consuming, require power, and can only be used by trained experts.  

WaterScope is developing a rapid bacterial testing kit that can be used by anyone regardless of resource availability. The lightweight kit uses machine learning to identify bacterial presence, and enables rapid results that can be immediately, and automatically, disseminated for mapping and reporting of contaminated water sources. As well as providing a fast and low-cost alternative to existing bacteria testing kits, it is battery powered and does not require internet access, meaning it can be used in even the most remote locations. 

Find out more

To learn more and stay up to date with our ongoing work in humanitarian WASH, sign up to our newsletters. We continue to champion research and innovation in this field all year round, beyond World Water Day – you can explore more of our funded WASH projects, or take a deep-dive into our flagship publications, including the WASH Innovation Catalogue. 

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