Providing Clean Water During An Emergency

by International Medical Corps
Officials pose with the new well
Officials pose with the new well

In a remote village 90 miles east of Kabul, Afghanistan, some 2,500 young girls attend the Shikhan Girls Higher Secondary School. Although the girls have access to education, until recently, they had no access to safe and reliable water sources. “There were three wells inside the school building,” Abida, a tenth-grade student, said, “but unfortunately, none of them worked." Like her classmates, Abida lives several miles from the school, and each morning she must carry enough water to drink throughout the day. In the hot seasons, the amount of water the students need to avoid dehydration becomes even more concerning. Moreover, when students cannot access safe water, their attendance in school often drops because children, especially young girls, have to spend additional time collecting water for themselves and their families.

With students at Shikhan Girls Higher Secondary School bringing water from various sources, there was no way to guarantee that the water was safe. “Often, water which looks clean in its physical characteristics is not safe or potable for drinking,” said Yasir Ahmad, International Medical Corp’s Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Advisor. As a result, the school’s students and staff were at a high risk for water-borne diseases, especially diarrhea. Moreover, without an adequate water supply, students and staff were unable to clean the school’s toilets, wash their hands after using the facilities, or maintain other proper hygiene practices.

To address the need for clean and safe water, International Medical Corps brought together local education officials, community leaders and the school’s head master, principal and staff. The group discussed the best place for a new water tank and access points and how to effectively maintain the system for sustainable water. Once planning was complete, our water and sanitation team drilled a borehole, constructed a reinforced concrete water tower and installed a 3,000 liter holding tank, along with water access points.

In Afghanistan and elsewhere, International Medical Corps prioritizes sanitation and hygiene into our health programs as the first defense against disease and infection. Globally, one in five child deaths are due to diarrhea. Other diseases, such as pneumonia, eye and skin infections, malaria, cholera and typhoid are also linked to poor hygiene practices. As part of our comprehensive approach to health, we prioritize access to equitable, reliable and clean water, the provision and improvement of sanitation facilities and the promotion of safe hygiene practices. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, our teams have drilled wells, verified the purity of the water and installed access point to provide clean and safe water to schools, families, and entire communities around the globe. We also conduct community outreach and education on proper hygiene and sanitation practices to help people stay healthy.

Our teams rehabilitated the Shikhan Girls Higher Secondary School’s water system while the school was closed for the summer holiday. When Abida and her classmates returned, they were free to learn without the fear of water-borne diseases and concern to find clean and safe water. Now, the school has cleaner sanitation facilities and enough water for children to drink and wash their hands. Yasir goes on to say, “Water and sanitation service provision means privacy and dignity.” As a result of these interventions, the girls will be less likely to contract disease or miss school to collect water, and they can take pride in their safe water and hygiene practices.

We want to thank the GlobalGiving community for your support of International Medical Corp’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs across the world, ensuring that every child has access to safe and potable water.

Community leaders at the ribbon-cutting ceremony
Community leaders at the ribbon-cutting ceremony
The school
The school's broken well before the project
Hygiene promotion is a critical activity
Hygiene promotion is a critical activity

“We began our water, sanitation and hygiene program with a public meeting with the community members, discussing each activity and the implementation strategy. Engaging the community is critical to help the members possess a sense of ownership of the water, sanitation and hygiene services, ensuring sustainability long after the project ends,” explains Betemariam, International Medical Corps’ Program Director in Sudan.

For more than a decade, Darfur has been affected by conflicts, and other man-made and natural disasters that have translated into forced displacement of populations, with 3.2 million people internally displaced in Sudan by 2015.

International Medical Corps’ interventions are lifesaving in nature. Our teams are reaching nearly 60,000 men and women in Central Darfur to improve sanitation, personal hygiene, and increase access to safe water in order to reduce the burden of communicable diseases, like malaria and diarrhea.

As open defecation is still common and handwashing not always a standard practice, through hygiene promotion activities, we are working to build the local population’s awareness of key public health risks associated with those practices. We educate men, women, and children on the importance of proper sanitation, such as washing one’s hands with soap or an alternative cleansing agent, which can prevent serious illness in both children and adults. To-date, our teams have declared seven villages defecation-free, illustrating the positive impact community-based water, sanitation and hygiene activities can have.

To improve environmental sanitation, which focuses on clean and safe water supply, clean air, efficient and safe waste disposal, and more, we are conducting environmental clean-up campaigns with the communities, facilitating awareness and mobilization for action. Most recently, 734 members participated in campaigns in the villages of Umdukun and Mukjar. Betemariam says of the campaigns, “260 mothers are representing the community and developing action plans, helping improve environmental sanitation and hygiene.” By including community members in all water, sanitation and hygiene activities, we seek to empower each person to adopt and promote improved services.

Since 2004, our teams have worked to restore water delivery and sanitation systems as well as provide essential medical care, implement nutrition programs, and support to the Ministry of Health through health system strengthening activities. We thank you and the GlobalGiving community for helping us continue this work.

We engage local actors to ensure sustainability
We engage local actors to ensure sustainability
Community members near project areas
Community members near project areas
A water point in Aden, Yemen
A water point in Aden, Yemen

“One of our daily struggles is finding or buying enough clean water to drink and for general personal use. It seems like Yemen’s entire water system is at a standstill,” says Mohammed. The ongoing war in Yemen displaced Mohammed, his wife, and two-year old son, and they have moved four times since the conflict began in March 2015. As internally displaced persons, Mohammed and his family move to new places to remain safe. Mohammed goes on to recall, “Even before the war, we faced this problem because the pipe network was old and most of the water was lost through leaks. Now we have to buy water from trucks, which is expensive. Before the war, it would cost us $12 to buy 120 gallons. In October 2015, the same 120 gallons cost $70.”

Water shortages persist in Yemen alongside the destruction of homes, health facilities, and roads, and fuel and electricity are hard to find. At times when water is available, prices are high and often, unaffordable. The shortages are not only placing additional burdens among the local people, particularly those who are internally displaced, but are also limiting health facilities and hospitals’ ability to deliver medical care.

Mohammed is one of the estimated 19,400,000 people, or 75% of the population in Yemen, who lack clean water and access to proper sanitation. A total of 9,800,000 people lost this access due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. After nearly a year of renewed violence, airstrikes and bombings continue to devastate the country. Clean water—critical for drinking and to thwart the spread of disease—is among the most urgent needs.

In response to the persisting water needs, International Medical Corps’ teams truck water to people and facilities, when other sources of water cannot be found. Given the increasing need, International Medical Corps expanded services and over a span of two months, teams provided nearly 1.4 million liters of water for an additional seven facilities and seven hospitals in in Sana’a, Taizz, Aden, and Lahj. Our teams on the ground continue to truck water for two more hospitals in Sana’a, three in Taizz, one in Ibb, and seven health facilities in Aden and Lahj. These services help keep the medical facilities operational in the conflict-affected areas.

With 1 in 10 individuals now displaced by the conflict in Yemen, the provision of water assistance is as crucial as ever. In Taizz, Ibb, and Aden, International Medical Corps established water storage tanks to provide individuals displaced by violence with clean drinking water. Alongside delivering critically needed water, International Medical Corps promotes proper hygiene behavior, like washing one’s hands, to prevent the spread of disease. In the coming weeks, International Medical Corps is planning to distribute hygiene materials, including items like soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, to help increase the communities’ resilience in the face of this disaster.

Today, Mohammed is working with International Medical Corps to address the many needs faced in his community. As he endures the conflict, he also trains health workers to manage the additional concern of malnutrition.

International Medical Corps thanks you and GlobalGiving for your timely and generous support, enabling Mohammed and other First Responders to provide urgent care and address the concerning water needs of those affected by the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Mohammad treating a wounded patient
Mohammad treating a wounded patient
Provision of clean water
Provision of clean water
A building in Aden destroyed in the war
A building in Aden destroyed in the war

Sherifo and her family ran for their lives back in 2010, away from the violent conflict in their home country of Somalia. They endured a tedious journey to cross the border into Ethiopia and reside in Bokolmayo refugee camp in the Dolo Ado region. Sherifo  remembers seeing many children lose their lives while she was trying to survive in Somalia, not from bombs or guns, but from diarrhea and other common ailments. She didn’t know then that these unnecessary deaths could have been prevented with a very simple solution.

That solution - handwashing with soap or ash . In an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a man-made conflict, hygiene is often overlooked. Poor hygiene practices can easily lead to the spread of illness and disease, such as diarrhea. In fact, globally, one in five child deaths are due to diarrhea. Handwashing is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent such disease. But for such a simple and lifesaving habit, handwashing with soap, or ash when soap is not available, can be difficult to adopt when poor hygiene practices are the norm and there is limited access to materials.

As a result, International Medical Corps has been working to promote improved handwashing and sanitation practices in Bokolmayo refugee camp since 2012. “My awareness on hygiene and sanitation was poor before my arrival to the camp,” says Sherifo . “No hygiene and sanitation interventions were provided in the community in my homeland, Somalia.” Survey results show that since International Medical Corps’ sanitation and hygiene services began in the camp, 90% of the population are now aware of the importance of handwashing practices.

“After I received messages on diarrhea prevention, I understood the importance of washing my hands very well. I always wash my hands at all critical times - after a latrine visit and cleaning the bottom of my children, before cooking, eating and feeding my children,” says Sherifo .

Refugee camps are especially prone to the spread of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related diseases because many people are living in congested and often unsanitary conditions. Not only does International Medical Corps promote improved hygiene practices in Bokolmayo and many other refugee camps around the world, they also construct safe and improved latrines and provide hygiene supplies such as jerry cans for water collection and soap.

Sherifo now volunteers for International Medical Corps as a WASH committee member and has installed her own tippy tap, a low-tech, hands-free handwashing device used where there is no running water, near her latrine to help her and her family wash their hands regularly. It is critical to have people like Sherifo who understand the importance of handwashing and spread the message to others.

She says, “My family and I are no longer suffering from disease like we faced before; presently, I am promoting handwashing within my community and helping members develop positive hygiene behavior.”

It is with the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors that International Medical Corps is able to equip mothers like Sherifo with the supplies and information needed to survive in very difficult circumstances around the world. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Kais distributes hygiene kits to displaced persons
Kais distributes hygiene kits to displaced persons

Kais says he never expected all-out war to come to Yemen. But when it arrived last March and turned his life upside down, the 35-year-old water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialist working out of the International Medical Corps office in the city of Taiz, adjusted quickly to the extraordinary challenges it brought.

Previously involved in a community-level program to improve sanitation in remote areas of Taiz Governorate, Kais and his WASH team quickly became part of a broader effort on the part of international NGOs operating in Yemen to distribute emergency assistance to those caught up in the violence.

“In just 72 hours, we switched to emergency work,” he explained. “The setting of humanitarian work changed drastically and we had to adapt to it.”

It has been a demanding and dangerous task. In the months since the conflict erupted, Kais has worked long hours and made personal sacrifices—at one point turning his dwelling in Taiz into both an office and a safe place for his entire team of water and sanitation specialists so they could live and work amid the violence. He was also detained at a checkpoint once for hours amid heavy fighting in the area before finally being released. Through it all, Kais has focused on one goal: getting aid to those in great need.

The level of his commitment to help others in the heat of crisis, even in the face of great personal risk, is in the finest traditions of true First Responders. It is also an example of the dedication that enables International Medical Corps to operate successfully in the world’s most challenging environments.

“Kais and his team have demonstrated a positive and inspirational attitude during this emergency response, and have demonstrated a true humanitarian spirit which has been an example to us all,” said Judith Harvie, a senior member of International Medical Corps’ Yemen staff.

Living with his wife and two small children in a rural area 90 minutes from Taiz before the war began in March, Kais immediately rented an apartment in the city when the shooting started in order to be closer to the International Medical Corps office and those in the city who needed assistance. When a house near the office took a direct hit during an airstrike on the city, Kais ordered his team to evacuate, offering his new apartment as an alternative. As the violence escalated, Kais decided the safest, most efficient solution was for the team—14 in all—to move into the apartment and make it a temporary home-office until the fighting eased.

“We stayed together for two weeks until things calmed down,” he recalled. “Inside the apartment, we worked as one team, committed to the task of supporting those needing assistance. We planned our day according to events. We increased our efforts to support those forced to flee their homes because of the fighting and supported three hospitals in Taiz, including helping them get sufficient water supplies. We also tripled our distribution of hygiene kits, reaching more than three thousand families who had to leave their homes.”

Kais said that if he spots someone in obvious need of specialized care while conducting his own work as a WASH officer, he informs the appropriate International Medical Corps specialist. On one recent trip to the field, he came across a displaced mother feeding her baby dirty water because she had no milk of her own. He immediately reported her condition to members of the International Medical Corps nutrition team, who went to assist both mother and child.

Through it all, Kais says what drives him is the knowledge that his work makes a difference.

“Whether we work in development or emergencies, our interventions have a long term impact,” he says. “We not only train people. We create committees of volunteers who follow up to bring change to their own community.”

It is with the support of GlobalGiving and other donors people like Kais are able to make such a tremendous impact in the communities in which they work. Thank you so much for your continued support.

Kais provides hygiene training
Kais provides hygiene training
Kais provides hygiene training
Kais provides hygiene training
Kais assists in providing access to clean water
Kais assists in providing access to clean water

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website: https:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Erica Tavares
Director, Resource Development
Washington, DC United States

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.