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“So, how does Save the Children’s WASH work help children, in particular?”

It’s a difficult question for me: clearly our work helps the entire community. And, other agencies also provide emergency water supply and sanitation, so what really makes Save the Children different?

Save the Children has initiated research on how best to adapt Emergency WASH work to take into account the distinct needs of children, focusing on appropriate ways of working, and the technology choices available. Sanitation is often inaccessible for children: for example, in rural Liberia children are routinely told not to use latrines because they are seen as dangerous places; much like British children are told not to cross the road.

Research into “Emergency WASH for Children” has started with a flurry of activity. So far, funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) has facilitated a review of existing practice, through a desk study completed by consultants Suzanne Ferron and Anne Lloyd, with support from a Steering Group comprising Oxfam GB, International medical Core (IMC) and UNICEF.

Getting buy-in from other organisations will be the key to success, so we organised an initial workshop with the Steering Group, which was also attended by Tearfund, the UK Department for international Development (DfID) and WaterAid. Later in the project we plan to present findings to the WASH cluster (the humanitarian coordination mechanism for organisations that provide emergency WASH).

Initial discussions have highlighted:

  • The need to treat children of different ages differently. Its sounds so obvious, however often people lump children into one bracket and assume approaches for 3 year olds will also work for 12 year-olds. Clearly, not true.
  • How can we involve the different age groups in assessments, project planning, and implementing the response (obviously avoiding child labour)?
  • That dealing with excreta of very young children is a subject about which almost nothing is written: For example some people assume that babies’ faeces are pathogen free, which is a myth; organisations don’t really know whether it is appropriate to provide disposable or washable nappies in a crisis; and should we distribute potties, or not?

This list of interesting and knotty issues continues, and hopefully this research will start to address some of them. The next step is fieldwork in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, in April and May, which we will use to deepen our understanding of the issues, by talking to children and staff who were involved in previous humanitarian projects. We will continue to learn how to provide sufficient safe water, sanitation, and improve people’s knowledge of hygiene issues, in a crisis, while bearing in mind the needs of children.

Photo credit: Save the Children

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