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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Safe water is essential for preventing the spread of waterborne diseases in refugee and IDP camps, where these diseases are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Chlorination is the most widely used water treatment method in humanitarian response globally because it importantly offers residual protection against recontamination.

Current global guidelines (such as Sphere) for water chlorination, however, are not based on evidence from humanitarian field settings and fail to account for the decay in chlorine residual that occurs after water is collected from the distribution point, taken home, and stored before use. This post-distribution chlorine decay is highly dependent on site-specific factors, so a one-size-fits-all universal chlorination target is inadequate for ensuring drinking water safety across the wide range of settings encountered globally. Several studies have linked the widespread recontamination of drinking water after distribution to the spread of waterborne diseases in camp populations.


We created the Safe Water Optimization Tool (SWOT), a web-based platform that generates site-specific and evidence-based water chlorination targets, to ensure water remains safe to drink all the way to the point of consumption. The SWOT uses machine-learning and numerical modelling to generate insight from water quality monitoring data already routinely collected in refugee and IDP camps. We pilot-tested the SWOT in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2019 and found that it produced substantive improvements in household water safety compared to the status quo chlorination guidelines.   

In this project, we aim to build evidence that will support the scaling of the SWOT across the global humanitarian sector. Using a mixed-methods approach, we will: 

  1. Evaluate the SWOT in three new humanitarian water supply use cases—water trucking, medical facilities, and surface water supplies 
  2. Improve the robustness of the SWOT’s numerical and machine-learning modelling tools 
  3. Generate insights on how to improve the tool’s use-ability and functionality by learning from field users 
  4. Create rapid tools for evaluating chlorine taste and odour acceptance thresholds and for characterising disinfection by-products in humanitarian water supply projects 


This project will produce an improved SWOT web tool and a suite of evidence-based resources to support its global scale-up, including: 

  1. Case study demonstrations of the SWOT for ensuring point of consumption water safety in three new water supply use cases  
  2. An improved web tool featuring enhanced modelling that can generate insight while lowering data collection requirements, plus an improved user experience/interface (UX/UI) based on user feedback 
  3. New rapid tools for evaluating chlorine taste and odour acceptance thresholds and for characterising disinfection by-products, all of which will become part of the SWOT toolkit 
  4. A suite of evidence-based guidance and advocacy resources detailing the role the SWOT can play in emergency water supply programmes, targeted to field users, managers, advisors, coordination bodies, and donors 

These outputs will take the form of research publications, conference presentations, technical memoranda, case studies, training webinars, policy briefs, and other resources to support the scaling of the SWOT with diverse user groups in the humanitarian sector.   

Sudanese refugees collecting chlorinated water supply at the Batil refugee camp, South Sudan, 2013.

Latest Updates

HIF Case Study: Safe Water Optimization Tool

31 Oct 2023

This study was selected by the HIF for our case study series exploring the success and impact of the project.


Using the SWOT to improve water quality in humanitarian settings: Reflections on our work in Somaliland

15 Jan 2023

In this blog, the SWOT Team present the field work conducted at the Las Anod General Hospital in Somaliland in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) where they evaluated how the SWOT could be used to ensure water safety.


First reflections – what have we learned so far?

20 Dec 2022

This post, the third and final in this series, highlights some of the project's early findings and sets out some key lessons learned so far.


New methods for new applications

08 Dec 2022

This post, the second in the series, describes how we’re testing the SWOT out in new water supply use cases, as well as developing new tools for the SWOT toolkit that will provide for a more holistic understanding of water quality.


Kyaka II – Testing New Territory for the SWOT in Uganda

28 Oct 2022

In the first of three in this blog series, the SWOT Team present the field work being carried out in the Kyaka II Refugee Camp in Uganda.


Building the evidence base for the Safe Water Optimization Tool

9 May 2022

The project team is aiming to turn the SWOT prototype into a fully-fledged product, and has identified three important areas of development and testing to ensure the SWOT is ready for widespread adoption in the sector.


WASH Evidence funding granted!

Nov 2020

The project has received further funding from the WASH Evidence challenge to continue building their evidence base.


Evidence-based FRC targets for centralised chlorination in emergencies

31 May 2017

Current emergency water treatment guidelines stipulate free residual chlorine (FRC) levels to protect water at refugee camps from microbiological contamination. However current guidelines are not based on field evidence, and fail to reliably protect water supplies in emergency settings.


Temperature and seasonal effects from chlorine decay: findings from Jordan

13 Sept 2016

Our findings from Azraq Camp, Jordan evidence why it is so important that emergency water treatment guidelines account for local temperature or seasonal weather changes.


Welcome to Sudan: how the research began

15 Apr 2016

In 2013, the Maban County refugee camps in South Sudan faced major outbreaks of Hepatitis E, leading MSF ask two important questions to find out what happened and why.


Stanford Social Innovation Review: How research universities can help the refugee crisis

03 Apr 2016

Academic-humanitarian collaborations that mobilize rigorous scientific research can improve the effectiveness of aid efforts.


Final report - outcomes and impact

31 Oct 2015

This final report outlines the project's key activities and outputs, and includes information on dissemination strategies and partnership development


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