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X.2 Area- and Situation-Specific Conditions

Contextual Level Assessment

A contextual assessment is rarely exact in nature, as it must weigh many complex factors and consider a wide range of opinions. Furthermore, these can be very political, with vested and sometimes hidden interests at stake. The nature of an emergency means major decisions often need to be made based on limited, incomplete and approximate or inaccurate information. With this in mind, short term commitments are prioritised initially until information is available, which enables mid-term commitments to be made with greater confidence. 

Roles, responsibility and capacity: As national governments bear the responsibility for ensuring access to safe water and sanitation (as human right), those governments that have the capacity usually take the lead in an emergency with support from local first responders. Here, external agencies might only provide supplementary capacity and support (or none at all). If the government is unable (or unwilling) to provide the capacity and coordination necessary for effectively managing the WASH response, external agencies play a more significant role. In this case, they may have greater latitude for technology choices, as short-term budgets often support this. However, mid-term consequences and exit strategies (see X.11) must be considered.

Estimated duration of the emergency: For displaced populations, it is important to understand for how long any new systems may be needed or how long the surge of existing capacity might last. Typically, flash flooding and limited storm damage means days to months of displacement, while earthquakes and conflict may require immediate solutions that either have the potential to last for years, or at least do not interfere with likely long-term solutions. Rapidly available means for service provision: In acute large-scale emergencies, it is important to consider what can be deployed most rapidly to provide a stop-gap solution, even though it may not be the best fit technical or cost-effective solution in the medium or long term. In contrast, for non-emergency situations, WASH service providers consider the local capacity and knowledge, social-cultural aspects, cost-effectiveness, post-construction support and sustainability at the early stages of the planning phase. These considerations must be recognised from the outset so that the initial emergency solutions can be phased out as soon as feasible rather than perpetuated longer than required.

Nature of the built environment and extent of population concentration: In urban areas where service levels are often higher, the government is more present, networks are more established and service provision is often through utilities, municipalities or private companies such that the choice of technology will often be driven by these actors. However, simple first-phase responses (e.g. tap stands, localised storage, household containers), sometimes thought of as ‘rural’, may still play a major role. In contrast, in rural areas where populations remain disbursed, centralised systems such as bulk water treatment are seldom useful, and household water treatment options (see HWTS chapter) may be more appropriate.

Technical Level Assessment

This section provides a high-level overview of existing technologies. Please refer to the Sphere handbook for a more detailed explanation. Prevailing national standards in relation to Sphere should be checked, and the higher standard or respective indicators should be used wherever possible. Where expectations of the affected people exceed standards, these need to be understood and discussed, and the service delivery should be negotiated accordingly within financial and feasibility constraints. The most relevant parameters to be assessed include:

Source/ Intake/ Abstraction/Treatment

  • Existing supplies. Any existing supply may be able to cover some of the water requirement and should be assessed alongside potential supplementary ‘emergency’ sources. It is important to assess the state of the existing supplies, especially after earthquakes, landslides, floods and long-lasting conflicts.
  • Quantity of additional water required and the time period over which it will be needed.
  • Quality of water (both at the source and what is ultimately required). Analysing the quality includes checking the total suspended solids (TSS), total dissolved solids (TDS), temperature and pH to guide required treatment processes. Chlorine disinfection is generally used in emergencies, so microbiological testing is not a first priority, though this should follow later. However, water turbidity needs to be tested to assess the feasibility of chlorination and additional pre-treatment needs. For the stabilisation and recovery phases, national regulations should be consulted to identify additional water quality assessment needs. Chemical health hazards are often less of a short-term health risk, so testing for chemical parameters may also not be of immediate concern, though in urban areas and in areas with known risks of geogenic contamination (e.g. arsenic), this may be required.
  • Feasibility for short-term physical and microbiological treatments, as these generally pose the greater short-term health risk, and the potential for later treatment of chemical contaminants. This also includes aspects such as the speed of implementation and potential impact on other communities.


  • The location and distribution of population to determine the number of sources which may be needed and/or the extent of the systems. It is most helpful to work backwards from the designed location of water points to understand how water will be provided there. For example, storage tanks with tap stands may be initially served by water truck and only later connected into distribution points.
  • Optimum locations of water points, likely to be communal/shared. A sufficient number of water points should be provided to ensure that standards and indicators are respected, such as the maximum distance to households, norms to ensure that water is available at key times morning and evening, limiting waiting times at water points, minimising waste, drainage is adequate and water points are safely accessible by minorities, people with disabilities and children. 

Water Management at Household Level (including HWTS)

  • Need and location for shared bathing facilities (household or gender disaggregated at the communal level). Households are more likely to expect bathing facilities to be within the shelter/house for dignity and safety reasons, and here it may be better to provide materials to households to build their own rather than building communal facilities. This may however lead to drainage problems. Additionally, there may be a need to heat the water, either centrally in shower blocks or through a potential fuel allowance, to encourage regular personal hygiene, particularly in areas with lower temperatures.
  • Menstrual hygiene management arrangements in association with bathing facilities. This is likely to require dedicated space in the bathing facilities or other adequate arrangements.
  • Laundry facility needs. Households can often make their own ad hoc arrangements in the short term, so this is often a mid-term priority.
  • Need for household water containers. Typically, households do not have these on hand and they must be provided for domestic water use and potentially household treatment, as well as for carrying water for bathing and latrine use, if needed. Water container distribution and/or cash/vouchers for purchase could be a consideration.
  • Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS). Particularly in rural areas, HWTS can be a viable option to improve water quality in the short term when bulk water supply is not feasible.


  • Quantity of wasted (spillage) water at water collection points. This should be minimised using selfclosing taps, pressure-reducing valves or other means, but some waste will occur and this needs to be designed for and observed in practice to determine drainage requirements. Consider localised drainage soak pits and/or use for food cultivation/ livestock.
  • Need for greywater sullage arrangements for household washing, bathing and laundry facilities. These should be designed for reuse where water is in short supply.
Removal of water from a source.An opening through which fluid enters an enclosure (e.g. river intake) or a machine (e.g. pump intake, same as pump inlet).Stands for power of hydrogen; a scale used to specify how acidic or basic (alkaline) a waterbased solution is. A pH value below 7 indicates that a solution is acidic, and a pH value above 7 indicates that it is basic (alkaline).