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P.3 Access to Water Supply Facilities

Access to water is defined as a sufficient quantity and quality of water to meet the needs of the affected population for hygiene, water consumption and sanitation. Users must be involved in the design, siting and management of facilities. Care needs to be taken to enable inclusive access, particularly for children and persons with disabilities.

A water supply system is a multi-step structure providing safe water for drinking, personal hygiene, cleaning and other domestic purposes. It comprises functional groups of technologies and services covering source exploitation, intake, abstraction and treatment to distribution methods and user safety at the point of use. A water supply system includes the management and operation and maintenance (O&M) required for the system to function safely and sustainably. The ‘Compendium of Water Supply Technologies in Emergencies’ provides a structured overview and in-depth information on water supply technologies and their applicability depending on the context, humanitarian settings and response phase.

In addition to establishing (or rehabilitating) a functioning water supply system or service that provides safe drinking water for all, it is important to provide ongoing protection from re-contamination, usually by adding chlorine and ensuring a sufficient free residual chlorine (FRC) level (amount of chlorine remaining in the water after its full disinfection to extend the protection against re-contamination). This needs to be regularly monitored as in the process of water being transported to, stored and used at home, FRC levels may be used up and the water becomes re-contaminated and unsafe. It is also important to regularly test the quality of water (both at the point of distribution and the point of use).

All humanitarian responders, local and international, must consider national guidelines and regulations regarding water supply, extraction, conveyance and quality standards. Additional local regulations may also apply. Water supply standards and suggested key actions and indicators in an emergency response are described in Sphere. It includes recommendations for the minimum quantity of water to be provided (at least 15 litres per person per day), a recommended distance of fewer than 500 metres from the household to the nearest waterpoint and a maximum queuing time at water sources of 30 minutes.

Water supply in an urban environment is likely to be more intense and complex than in a rural environment due to the interconnectedness of services and the higher density of people. It needs close collaboration with the local water authority, utility or bureau and a coordinated approach with other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Health, the Department of Sewage, the electricity utility, The Ministry of Planning and the City Council or the local Municipalities concerned P.9. In urban environments, there is an increased danger that broken water supply lines due, for example, to an earthquake or urban warfare, may be contaminated by sucking in wastewater.

In camp and camp-like settings, ensuring that the camp population has access to water provision may be easier than in an urban environment (both in terms of quantity and quality) because the network and systems are likely to have been recently installed, correctly monitored and the water correctly treated. However, ensuring their sustainability remains a challenge. Humanitarian responses often concentrate on the most rapidly deployable solution (e.g. water trucking or extracting water from a ground aquifer) which can be expensive, environmentally damaging and difficult to sustain. After the initial crisis is over, donor and humanitarian attention will move on and funding usually decreases over time. Hence, it is important to consider the sustainability of the quantity and quality of the water supply at an early stage, instigating discussions with the local water authority, communities and other stakeholders. Failure to plan for sustainability at the start can mean that the refugee or internally displaced people’s camp will, in the longer term, be transformed into an informal urban settlement.

In protracted, complex emergencies involving multiple settlement typologies, the WASH cluster may issue guidance for partners and humanitarian WASH responders, for example, ‘WASH Response by Settlement Typology’ which details the response required by partners by settlement type (e.g. planned or emergency camps, transit sites, urban displacement types) and spanning different time phases of the response.

Process & Good Practice

  • Involve communities wherever possible in making decisions about the design and siting of water supplies and ensure that plans about the water supply are communicated to them. Even in the acute phase of the emergency, it should be possible to obtain information on water use (e.g. priorities, cultural acceptability, or taboos) and to rapidly consult different users.

  • Assess the population's vulnerability in both on-camp and off-camp settings as certain groups, such as female-headed households, elderly or persons with disabilities, will face barriers to access.

  • Help water system designers to understand and address the variations in supply and demand. In the acute phase of an emergency, the water supply may be limited. Water needs may be higher for some populations than others (e.g. nursing mothers, women and girls to wash reusable menstrual products and adults with incontinence or bedwetting children). Collaboration and coordination within the WASH team and the sector P.9 will be required to address these needs.

  • Consider the establishment of an inclusive and gender-balanced WASH Committee T.55 to provide oversight of water supplies and help to ensure the O&M of facilities and the fair distribution of water for all. This should be discussed and decided upon by affected communities.

  • Involve WASH Committees T.55 and affected communities in water testing if possible. This can be a useful tool to promote hygiene and encourage action to protect water from contamination at the source or in the home.

  • Design for disabilities. People with disabilities have special requirements for access to water. The ‘Compendium of Water Supply Technologies in Emergencies‘ provides detailed information on Inclusive and Equitable Design (X.15) including a comprehensive list of measures to be considered.

  • Discuss measures with the community to minimise the risk of post-delivery water contamination at the point of consumption, including equipping households with safe containers with a lid (and a tap or narrow outlet) to safely collect, store and draw drinking water, ensuring a safe environment and location of the storage containers as well as a cleaning and disinfection regime for collection and storage containers.

  • Work with communities when context-appropriate household water treatment technologies are seen to be appropriate. It is important to ensure (and monitor) that they accept and use the technology effectively.

  • Consult and communicate with users and involve them in the planning even where more complex water systems are introduced (e.g. urban areas).

  • Work with communities to find solutions to inadequate drainage and wastewater which will otherwise lead to increased breeding of flies, mosquitoes, rats and other vectors P.5.

  • Collaborate with WASH engineers and affected communities to solve problems concerning access to and management of water and drainage; facilitate community meetings for this purpose.



To ensure the affected population has access to a safe and sufficient supply of water for their hygiene needs.


  • Access to water is fundamental to people's health and well-being and is considered a basic human right. Everyone should have access to adequate, safe, acceptable, disability-accessible and affordable water for both personal and domestic needs. Access applies to all contexts of an emergency, regardless of where or when it occurs or its scale. Effective hygiene is dependent on access to and the satisfactory use of WASH facilities, services and products.

  • Standards and guidelines for emergencies specify and address both the quantity and quality of water required to meet needs. Key references include Sphere’s minimum standards for all types of emergencies and phases, UNHCR’s standards for internally and internationally displaced people, WHO guidelines for drinking water and national standards and guidelines.

  • The priority when establishing water supply facilities in an acute emergency is to provide an adequate quantity of water, even if it is of intermediate quality, until minimum standards for both water quantity and quality are met. Water quality improvements must then be made as soon as possible.

  • Proximity to a water source is critical when selecting a location to settle people displaced by a disaster or crisis. The supply must adequately cover emergency requirements and provide scope to address longer-term needs.

  • Increases in water supply lead to an increase of greywater and/or wastewater, which needs to be treated or safely disposed of P.4. Liquid waste streams can be separated into sludge and water and, in this way, wastewater can be reused, for example, for irrigation in agriculture. This in turn reduces the consumption of domestic water and allows for a more sustainable supply for hygiene and other important uses.


Water supply standards and guidelines

Sphere Association (2018): The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response 4th Edition

WHO (2017): Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality 4th Edition. Incorporating the First Addendum

Overview and decision support for water supply technologies in emergencies

Coerver, A. et al. (2021): Compendium of Water Supply Technologies in Emergencies, German WASH Network, FHNW, GWC, SuSanA

Link to resources for household water treatment and safe storage

CAWST (2020): Training Toolkit: Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage Workshop

IFRC (2008): Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage in Emergencies. A Field Manual for Red Cross/Red Crescent Personnel and Volunteers (Available in different languages)

WASH response options by settlement typology and emergency phase

UNICEF (2017): WASH Response Against Settlement Typology