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P.10 Advocacy for WASH and Community Priorities

Humanitarian WASH advocacy is a deliberate and strategic process that involves a wide set of planned and coordinated activities to strengthen and prioritise life-saving WASH interventions in a humanitarian crisis, improve local conditions and access to WASH services, ensure that internationally agreed core principles, standards, codes and human rights are adhered to by all actors and support the affected population to claim their rights. 

Process steps for advocacy usually include: (1) the identification and prioritisation of problems or issues, (2) the collection of available information and contextual analysis of risks and opportunities, (3) the development of an advocacy and communication strategy (including key messages with clear objectives and target audiences) and (4) the implementation of advocacy activities including continuous monitoring and adjustments if required. 

Advocacy activities may range from media campaigns, local mobilisation, public announcements, lobbying and negotiating with policy and decision makers, building or supporting existing coalitions and networks through to the publication of research or policy papers.

WASH advocacy can be carried out by representatives of the affected population, by local or international NGOs (in close collaboration with the affected population) or by a combination of both. It can take place at different levels, from local, regional to national level, depending on the anticipated effectiveness. It may also involve sharing advocacy concerns at an international level to reinforce locally delivered messages.

Advocacy can address diverse issues. It may include the specific rights, needs and protection concerns of different vulnerable groups, raising the profile of potential taboo topics such as Menstrual Health and Hygiene P.7, promoting tariffs to recover costs for infrastructure and maintenance, advocating for the same level of WASH services in both refugee/IDP settlements and host communities, promoting the use of existing market systems by all involved in the response P.8, informing the affected population about their rights and supporting them in claiming these rights, using so-called ‘Shit Flow’ Diagrams (a way to visualise how human excreta travels around a city, town or camp) to raise awareness on current sanitation challenges, or promoting government investments in preparedness, resilience and disaster risk reduction among many others. Advocacy may also be needed to ensure adequate funding for HP and community engagement. 

Increasingly, affected populations live in, or are displaced to urban areas and may be represented by local government officials and structures. Local government needs to be consulted on how to address the concerns and needs of the affected population. Responding through local government structures and services will strengthen local ownership and response and contribute to sustainability. In displacement contexts, the hygiene of a host population will very likely be affected by the arrival of a newly displaced population using the local water, health, education, sanitation and hygiene services. Addressing shared concerns will contribute to the longer-term sustainability of services for the host and affected populations. 

Where displaced populations are settled in camps with limited or no local government representation of the affected population, forming a WASH Committee T.55 can help to represent their interests. The committee should be as gender-balanced as possible and represent the population (including the elderly and youth - especially young women and persons with disabilities) and include all ethnic, geographic and socio-economic groups. If any groups are not represented, alternative mechanisms should be put in place to ensure their views are heard. They should be involved in WASH cluster or hygiene technical working group meetings, in newly planned hygiene interventions and in the response, and in Monitoring M.2 and Evaluation M.3 so that their concerns and problems can be directly heard by WASH actors and be included in the response. If possible, when donors visit affected populations, WASH (and other) committee members should be invited to meet them directly, acting as a representative conduit between the community and the donors.

Process & Good Practice

  • Ensure that all WASH staff members have an understanding of the rights-based approach (including their own obligations), the rights and duties that affected communities hold and that they are aware of the role they play in identifying and supporting advocacy interventions.

  • Use questions that may help in identifying and prioritising advocacy issues such as: does the problem have a significant impact on the affected population or response priorities? Does the issue affect a large number of people or have a particular impact on more marginalised groups? Where does the organisation fit in the wider landscape of actors and key stakeholders? Who are or could be potential allies and partners?

  • Define advocacy objectives clearly and be as specific as possible. Potential questions to ask include: what issues may require advocacy? What are the key messages? What is the purpose of the intervention and what specific actions or changes are expected? 

  • Identify the roles and responsibilities of different actors and select the right target audience with a tailored approach appropriate for the actor you seek to influence. For example, who will be influenced by your strategy – municipal authorities, politicians, donors or journalists? What specific change is required? What allies can support the process?

  • Consider a variety of methods such as lobbying, meetings, negotiation, demonstrations, mass and social media and ‘edutainment’.

  • Be clear about the roles, responsibilities and expectations of duty bearers and rights holders towards equitable access to WASH for all.

  • Ensure that advocacy does not negatively affect access to WASH services or the protection of affected people (‘do no harm’). Advocacy messages should not be built on rumours or unconfirmed information C.6. It is important to consider that advocacy could have unintended indirect consequences (e.g. calls to stop gender-based violence which are not carefully formulated and contextualised may cause families to keep girls at home). 

  • Make sure that all advocacy messages and products are clear, consistent and evidence-based. Consider how and over what period change will be measured and ensure follow up.



To influence decision makers and those involved in the humanitarian (WASH) response to fund, develop, adapt or implement relevant WASH-related policies and practices that respond to community concerns, needs and priorities.


  • Advocacy strategies and interventions should always be made with the interests and needs of the affected population in mind. Hence it is important to involve affected people in advocacy decisions such as how to present issues and which advocacy messages are appropriate.

  • When raising WASH advocacy issues with local authorities as duty bearers, the role and contributions of the users (rights holders) of WASH services and facilities are vital and issues should be jointly developed. The Making Rights Real approach serves as an example of a non-confrontational approach towards WASH advocacy.  

  • WASH Advocacy is usually based on programmatic priorities and the concerns of the affected population. Those working in hygiene promotion (HP) need to listen to and record those concerns and, with their permission, share them with the wider programme teams in order to develop appropriate interventions and strategies. 

  • Potential advocacy issues may be identified based on response activities, programme experience, existing research and evidence, or witnessing and observation. 

  • Advocacy efforts must be informed by a rights-based approach and care must be taken to ‘do no harm’ when identifying issues and strategies.

  • Collaboration and coordination with other humanitarian actors P.9 can increase the effectiveness of advocacy initiatives.


Available guidance and toolkits on advocacy in emergencies

UNHCR (undated): Emergency Handbook. Advocacy in Emergencies

CARE (undated): Emergency Toolkit. Advocacy

Make Rights Real (undated): Putting the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation into Practice – At Local Level