Providing Clean Water During An Emergency

 
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Access to water initiative in Ethiopia
Access to water initiative in Ethiopia

Restricted access to clean water, combined with poor hygiene, is a major challenge to maintaining and advancing community health and development, especially among resource-poor households and following natural disasters. Children are particularly at risk in this context, as they are acutely vulnerable to diseases related to the lack of clean and safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices. Diarrhea, for example, is a major killer of children across the globe. UNICEF estimates that 4 billion cases of diarrhea per year cause 1.8 million deaths; more than 1.6 million (90%) of these deaths are of children under five.

International Medical Corps has prioritized providing access to clean water as part of our nutrition programs in drought-affected Ethiopia since 2010. International Medical Corps has built 45 communal latrines in health centers and installed 80 roof rainwater harvesting systems. In addition, we have rehabilitated a total of 120 water boreholes, shallow hand-dug wells and springs that have provided 138,980 people with improved water supply systems. Teams have constructed a total of 49 sex-segregated school latrines, making a significant difference in school attendance among menstruating girls, who will skip school to avoid the embarrassment of sharing latrines with boys. We have also trained local mechanics on the maintenance of these improvements, and provided needed equipment and supplies.

In the North and North East Departments of Haiti, we continue to fight cholera outbreaks, an ongoing problem that first emerged a few months after the 2010 earthquake. Fighting cholera in Haiti is as critical as ever, as during the first four months of 2015 the number of reported cholera cases was nearly 400% higher than what was reported during the same period in 2014. According to the World Health Organization, cholera can kill within hours if left untreated, but with proper care the mortality is under 1%. International Medical Corps staff therefore recently trained 90 health professionals on cholera case management. In addition, when a cholera victim is identified, we disinfect homes and provide education for remote affected communities on prevention. As cholera is caused by contaminated water, we reduce its risk by building sanitary infrastructure, including clean water sources, latrines, showers, foot baths and hand-washing stations, as well as building kitchens with clean water in local schools.

In post-earthquake Nepal, International Medical Corps is working closely with other partners in the health sector to repair damaged health facilities in remote areas, provide specialty medical care and psychosocial support services and restore damaged WASH infrastructure to help reduce the risks of communicable diseases in earthquake-affected areas. In June we distributed hygiene kits containing basic WASH supplies to 615 households in Dhading District, for a total of 2,343 households to date. Also in June, to improve sanitation conditions, WASH teams built 78 emergency latrines in Kathmandu District’s Shankharapur and Kageshoweri Village Development Committees (VDCs), Dhading District’s Muralibhangyang VDC, and Lalitpur’s Tholodrulung VDC, for a total of 760 emergency latrines in Kathmandu, Dhading, and Lalitpur to date.

With the generous support of GlobalGiving donors, International Medical Corps is able to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities – and save lives – with projects such as these for families and communities that have lost their homes because of natural disasters.

Access to water initiative in Ethiopia
Access to water initiative in Ethiopia

Severe flooding in late May and early June 2014 caused thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), living in 57 settlements across the five zones of Kismayo, Somalia, to seek refuge in Dalxis IDP camp, located on higher ground in the Farjano zone of Kismayo. The local Jubbaland authorities have built 65 latrines in the camp, but access to safe water in the form of shallow wells is still mostly lacking. As many as 60% of households are affected, according to International Medical Corps’ assessment in early December 2014. The few existing nearby wells are not always serviceable or adequately protected, and more reliable water sources are often located 1-2 km away, needing an average of 2-3 hours for the return trip by foot.

International Medical Corps has targeted existing shallow wells for rehabilitation in locations that are safe for women and girls to access. Minimum standards for the rehabilitation of shallow wells as set out by the Somalia water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) cluster , which brings together local and international non-governmental organizations, government departments and UN agencies who are actively involved in the implementation of WASH promotion activities in Somalia, will be closely adhered to. The rehabilitation work will include removal of well debris, repairs of concrete aprons, drainage channels, soakage pits, well linings, and head walls, and shock chlorination of the water.

To serve the maximum number of people, the target wells will either be communal or owned by a group of households. To ensure ongoing oversight for each of these wells, International Medical Corps will establish a community water committee consisting of 8 specially trained men and women. The committees will manage ongoing maintenance, promote sound sanitation and hygiene practices , and engage in community outreach and engagement. 

With the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to improve access to safe drinking water with projects such as these for families and communities who have lost their homes because of conflict and natural disasters.

Children using the new hand washing station.
Children using the new hand washing station.

In schools damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, installing new hand washing stations and water systems is just the first step towards recovery. Ensuring students know how to properly and regularly use these new facilities is also a critical step to restoring long-term health. Utilizing local engineers to design and oversee construction, International Medical Corps installed new water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and repaired damaged facilities at 141 schools in only eight months. In addition, our local WASH staff - which include nurses, Hygiene Promotion Officers (HPOs), and a team that supports the Department of Education’s school-based management system - train parents and teachers on hygiene messaging and ask that a Hygiene Champion be elected from the student body at each school. These students lead their peers in adopting and practicing good hygiene and utilizing the restored facilities.

At MacArthur National High School (MNHS) that Hygiene Champion is 15-year-old Kate. Soft spoken but sharp and confident, Kate was elected Supreme Student Government President of MNHS in 2013. She was just a few months into her senior year when Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) devastated her home town. Large stretches of the school’s tin roof were ripped away and the towering courtyard trees were uprooted, tearing up their concrete bases. Books, papers, chairs and desks were drenched - walls and chalkboards remain stained by the torrential rains.

"All was washed out, all facilities were devastated," Kate remembers. "And we bore in our minds 'we cannot graduate.’” Kate’s extraordinary determination pushed her forward despite the destruction and damaged morale surrounding her. “But I am strong. I must be. I uphold the name of the high school,” says Kate. “As president, I had to make plans to go back to before Yolanda.”

International Medical Corps’ HPOs train the Hygiene Champions on basic hygiene education, covering topics like food preparation and disposal, recycling and garbage disposal, proper tooth brushing and hand washing, and hygiene while using latrines, or comfort rooms as they are called in the Philippines. Students receive hygiene kits and participate in WASH clubs organized in their schools.

Before MNHS received its new hand washing station, complete with a dozen faucets and slick new tiles, many students frequently fell ill and had poor school attendance as a result. Now, Kate says, student absences due to illness have dropped thanks to the new hand washing station and hygiene promotion activities, which have helped prevent the spread of infectious diseases between students.

“Before, we had no hand washing station and we could not ensure sanitation for ourselves,” she recalls. “We are so glad that our school was chosen.”

Fatuma, Melkadida refugee camp, Ethiopia
Fatuma, Melkadida refugee camp, Ethiopia

Fatuma is a 36-year-old mother of 5 living in the Melkadida refugee camp in Ethiopia. Due to increasing violence in the region, Fatuma fled Somalia with her family in 2011 enduring a long, seven-day journey before arriving at the camp. In Somalia, Fatuma worked as a trader, in the camp she spends her time taking care of her children.

Fatuma has greatly benefited from International Medical Corps sanitation and hygiene programs in the camp. She attributes her family’s current healthy status to the valuable lessons she learned and is now implementing. She learned that using a washing basin separate from the potties her two children now use has greatly reduced her family’s risk of communicable disease. International Medical Corps also taught Fatuma about personal hygiene, safe water handling and storage, environmental cleanliness, solid and liquid waste management and diarrheal prevention.

Fatuma says International Medical Corps helped ‘save her family’ and is thankful for the critical supplies our staff was able to provide so her family can practice healthy hygiene and sanitation. These items include jerry cans, a washing basin, a three-liter cleansing container, potties, and laundry and bathing soap. Fatuma says, “I have no worry now for such things that I can’t afford to buy. Without the support of International Medical Corps, it will be challenging for us even to buy soap and keep our children and the family healthy.”

International Medical Corps has been delivering water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs in Melkadida for the past two years. Since then, there has been a significant reduction in WASH-related diseases among the refugee community. “International Medical Corps has not stopped providing us knowledge and has also helped us change our knowledge into practices,” says Fatuma. “It was worthwhile and the basis for keeping my family healthy.” Thanks to the generous support of Global Giving and other donors International Medical Corps is able to deliver lifesaving WASH programs such as these to underserved populations around the world.

Fatuma, Melkadida refugee camp, Ethiopia
Fatuma, Melkadida refugee camp, Ethiopia
Children using a newly installed washing station
Children using a newly installed washing station

Background: Out of the estimated population of 9.9 million affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, approximately 4 million were children under the age of 18. In the aftermath of the disaster, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Government of the Philippines reported immediate threats to children’s basic health including, among others, lack of safe drinking water, lack of sufficient food, and lack of access to sanitation and personal hygiene items. Moreover, Typhoon Haiyan caused extensive damage in schools, destroying infrastructure, school equipment and learning materials. More than 2,500 schools and 800 day care centers were partially or totally destroyed. In some areas, this meant that children had little to no access to safe water or an adequate number of toilets in schools, creating an unsafe learning environment, while in others there were simply no school buildings at all. 

International Medical Corps was on the ground in the Philippines within 24 hours of Typhoon Haiyan, and began delivering a comprehensive emergency response. In order to meet immediate needs of survivors and thwart the spread of disease, International Medical Corps worked to provide clean water by distributing water purification tablets; providing clean water-storage receptacles such as buckets, Jerry cans, and DayOne Response Waterbags; and distributing hygiene kits.   

Building Back Better: Soon after the immediate needs of the survivors were met, International Medical Corps began rehabilitating damaged water and sanitation infrastructure at storm-ravaged schools. The overall goal of International Medical Corps’ water and sanitation work at Typhoon-affected schools is to repair or replace damaged toilets and hand-washing systems in 130+ sites throughout the Leyte Province while also keeping aligned with the Philippines Department of Education’s goal to ensure that children can return to learning in a safe environment. When this project is complete, it will have reached more than 57,000 school children with improved water and sanitation services. In order to meet this goal, International Medical Corps worked with partners – the Department of Education, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and UNICEF – to jointly implement the “Back to Learning Campaign” to encourage families to send their children back to school.

Program Activities and Accomplishments: To improve the water, sanitation, and hygiene situation in priority schools, International Medical Corps carried out the following activities:  

  • Rehabilitation of water and sanitation facilities: International Medical Corps rehabilitated latrine facilities for both students and teachers, which are sex-segregated and lockable; restored water supply services; installed or repaired hand washing facilities; and created solid waste disposal pits.
  • Hygiene supplies: International Medical Corps provided hygiene kits to the students and teachers, and cleaning materials as needed.
  • Hygiene education: International Medical Corps trained teachers and students on proper personal and school hygiene. These hygiene lessons were passed from student and teacher “hygiene champions” to other members of the community which increased the benefit of this program. 

Following the principle of ‘building back better’, International Medical Corps’ construction of sanitation facilities and water supply systems were built to better withstand future storms and other natural disasters. In addition, International Medical Corps worked to engage interested students in roles as “Hygiene Champions” in an effort to encourage ongoing hygiene promotion and the permanent adoption of recommended hygiene behaviors in these schools and the greater community.

With support from Global Giving and other donors, International Medical Corps has completed the following milestones in 7 target municipalities in Leyte Province, including Burauen, Dagami, Julita, La Paz, MacArthur, Mayorga and Tabon Tabon:

  • Rehabilitated water and sanitation systems at 40 schools with an additional 44 in progress
  • Provided hygiene trainings to 130 schools
  • Trained 1,041 teachers on proper hygiene practices
  • Trained 322 students and 124 teachers as hygiene champions to train others
  • Distributed over 2,440 hygiene kits

Global Giving’s support of this work ultimately helped to provide students and teachers with access to proper sanitation through the construction of stronger, more resilient sanitation facilities; water through the restoration of water supply systems; and hygiene supplies provided through hygiene kits and hygiene promotion education. By working to ensure that schools have access to functional sanitation facilities, adequate water supply systems and hygiene education, the water and sanitation in schools program works to produce better outcomes for children in these schools. These efforts are part of a global campaign to end preventable disease outbreaks in schools and thereby, minimize school absenteeism.

Hygiene education session at Matica
Hygiene education session at Matica'a Elementary
Hygiene education session at Matica
Hygiene education session at Matica'a Elementary
Hygiene education session for teachers
Hygiene education session for teachers
Mother, daughter and friends by a hygiene mural
Mother, daughter and friends by a hygiene mural
Teacher hygiene class group shot
Teacher hygiene class group shot

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Project Leader

Erica Tavares

Director, Resource Development
Washington, DC United States

Where is this project located?