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Water and sanitation in post-crisis situations: between relief and development
Julie Patinet

The water and sanitation sector is affected by the same “classic” problems as other sectors in post-crisis situations: the need for high quality initial assessments, positioning in relation to the state, funding for the intermediary phase between emergency relief and development, coordination and planning ahead for the transition from assistance to cost recovery. Humanitarian and development agencies have interconnected know-how, but there is a lack of understanding between them. Can they work together better?

  Table of contents  

A seminar in January 2009 looked at the Water and Sanitation sector in post-crisis situations. The conclusions of the seminar have now been published in the French Development Agency’s Savoirs Communs » series.

With climate change and the probability of increasing urban growth, access to potable water and sanitation are becoming more and more pressing issues. During the reconstruction phase, it is essential to take a long term view of WASH issues: humanitarian and development actors need to work together in order to develop the most appropriate techniques and approaches which give people affected by a crisis sustainable access to water and sanitation. The quality of the transition between emergency relief and development is fundamental.

This article presents some of the key points and conclusions of the seminar in Paris co-organised by the French Development Agency (AFD) and Groupe URD on 12-13 January 2009. The seminar was a chance for professionals from the sector to share their experiences and preoccupations. A collective communication document was very rapidly produced summarising the main points which emerged during the seminar. Under the aegis of the Partenariat Français pour l’Eau, this was taken to the World Water Forum in Istanbul in March 2009. The seminar was also the subject of an issue of « Savoirs Communs » which can be downloaded from the AFD’s website or Groupe URD’s website. Over and above external communications, the objective of the seminar was to help actors from the humanitarian and development sectors to get to know each other better. This helped to collectively produce genuinely operational recommendations for actors of all kinds, including donors.

Before going any further, it is important to point out two things. Firstly, the overall objective of this kind of seminar, with its technical and institutional discussions, remains improving crisis affected populations’ access to potable water and appropriate sanitation systems. And secondly, covering these essential needs should always be done in keeping with the specific socio-cultural characteristics of the people concerned.

 Important points

Two important points were made on the basis of participants’ experiences.

First of all, the majority of current crises are complex, protracted and of an unpredictable duration. The supply of bottled water is actually the exception. Humanitarian agencies are increasingly present in long-term crisis situations where sustainable tools and equipment need to be installed (e.g. pumps) and adapted to the new contexts.

Secondly, even after the international year of sanitation in 2008, this sector remains relatively underfunded. And yet we know that access to potable water is inextricably linked to effective and decent sanitation, which is therefore extremely important in terms of health and development.