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...

In 2013, we began our work in WASH with a bold ambition: to identify and prioritise key problems in the field and to find and nurture innovative solutions to address these at scale. To date, we’ve supported more than 40 innovation projects or research studies in this area.

Our projects collectively address some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanitarian WASH practitioners globally. Together, we’re looking for what works. We’re seeking out innovation potential and creative problem-solving. And we’re supporting rigorous testing and evidence-building that drives progress in humanitarian response.


Limited access to clean water and poor sanitation are drivers for the spread of diarrhoeal diseases – a critical challenge during crises.

These diseases account for more than 40% of deaths in the acute emergency phase, and for 80% of deaths in children under the age of two. Girls and women are particularly affected by a lack of well-designed latrines and access to safe water. We know that more needs to be done.


What we do

We have driven progress in humanitarian WASH by defining the most pressing problems, developing the right solutions, distilling our findings and driving positive change.

  1. Identify and explore problems - we conduct in depth research on the most pressing gaps in WASH programming where innovation can really have an impact.
  2. Design innovation challenges - equipped with this knowledge, we design innovation challenges that can address these complex challenges and break down the barriers that stop people accessing WASH services.
  3. Fund and support innovation - we take a flexible, ethical and collaborative approach as a donor. We know that innovation takes time and support our projects to continually assess their work and pivot if needed to get the best result.
  4. Distil evidence of what works - we work with our grantees to create and share practical tools and guidance based on the evidence of what works.
  5. Empower the humanitarian community - once armed with this evidence and guidance around what works, we collaborate with the right people to drive adoption and change in the humanitarian system.

Explore our areas of WASH


Safe Water


Solid Waste Management

Surface Water Drainage

Cross-cutting WASH guidance

Our WASH Innovation Catalogue

Our WASH Innovation Catalogue is the first of its kind. It offers a unique overview of some of the most promising new solutions in WASH, and is designed to help practitioners decide which innovations could help them solve their most pressing problems. Taking an innovation from idea to scale can take years, and the innovations featured in this catalogue are all at different stages on that journey, but what this offers the WASH sector now is a look at the exciting work happening around the world to address common challenges.

Read our WASH Catalogue

Our WASH Tools & Research

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

Gap Analysis in Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion

Report COVID-19, Inclusion of People with Disabilities and Older People, Water, sanitation & hygiene

Rapid review of disability and older age inclusion in WASH

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

WASH in Emergencies Problem Exploration Report: Faecal Sludge Management

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

WASH in Emergencies Problem Exploration Report: Handwashing

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

WASH in Emergencies Problem Exploration Report: Solid Waste Management

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

WASH in Emergencies Problem Exploration Report: Surface Water Drainage

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

WASH in Emergencies Problem Exploration Report: Water Treatment

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

Innovation Challenge Handbook: Safe, dignified and inclusive menstrual hygiene management (MHM) programming in emergencies

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Humanitarian Crises: Setting the research agenda up to 2030

Our Voices of WASH

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: Why does the WASH sector need innovation?

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: What should the future of WASH look like?

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: How can humanitarian innovation be more accountable to people affected by crises?

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: What are innovation funders looking for?

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: What does the humanitarian WASH community need in order to help new proven innovations become part of programming?

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: What support helped your innovation?

Tools & Research from our funded projects

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

Final Report: Chemical water quality and impacts on the treatment of severely malnourished infants and children

Article, Peer Reviewed Water, sanitation & hygiene

Evaluation of Key Antimicrobial Properties of Moringa oleifera in Relation to Its Use as a Hand-Washing Product

Case Study, Report User-Centred Design, Water, sanitation & hygiene

User-Centred Design and Humanitarian Adaptiveness

Manual Water, sanitation & hygiene

Tiger Worm Toilet: One Stop Shop Manual

Evaluation User-Centred Design, Water, sanitation & hygiene

We’re Listening: An Evaluation of User-Centred Community Engagement In Emergency Sanitation

Literature Review User-Centred Design, Water, sanitation & hygiene

Community Engagement in Sanitation: A landscape review (2018)

See our funded WASH projects

Key moments from our WASH work

WASH Innovation Marketplace opens

Nov 2020

Ahead of our Adoption Challenge launch, on 8 December 2020, we created a place where people could get the know the WASH innovations ready for adoption a little better. The Marketplace includes information on the innovations and video pitches from the creators.


Launch of our WASH Innovation Catalogue

Jan 2019

In 2019 we published the WASH Innovation Catalogue. The first of its kind, it offers a unique overview of more than 30 of the most promising new solutions in WASH. It is designed to help practitioners decide which innovations could help them solve their most pressing problems.


We create a platform for decision makers and influencers

Jan 2019

In Jan 2019 we held our first WASH Innovation Showcase. We brought together some of the leading WASH influencers, donors, innovators and decision makers to share their insights on tackling some of the most challenging problems in WASH.

Further deep dive exploration

Jun 2015

Advised by our Technical Working Group (TWG) of WASH experts, we published further deep dive exploration reports in five key areas to critically analyse the problems and devise the best approach for tackling them.


Launch of our Innovation Challenges

Jul 2014

We designed and developed 12 needs-based Innovation Challenges. These covered topics such as handwashing, surface water drainage, user-centred design and faecal sludge management.


WASH Gap Analysis

Jan 2013

In 2013 we published the sector’s first ever WASH Gap Analysis. This identified over 50 programming gaps where innovation could have a tangible impact.


Cecilie Hestbæk

Senior Innovation Manager, Elrha

WASH is about so much more than latrines and water. Providing effective WASH services in an emergency means understanding people’s needs, challenges, motivations and desires; it means responding to those in a way that provides people with safe and dignified ways of keeping themselves and their family healthy during one of the most difficult times of their life. Innovation plays a crucial role in achieving this. Innovation can help us invent new water filters and latrine slabs; but innovation can also help us to see the problem and our solutions in new ways. At Elrha, we don’t want to run challenges to find a new solar-powered latrine light if we don’t know what latrine lighting means for the safety of users. We support our innovators to explore and address complex problems in a staged and responsible way and support them right from ideation to scale. It’s a great privilege to work with creative and insightful humanitarians, academics and designers every day, and I am proud of the results already achieved by our over 30 successful WASH innovations.

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