Access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use is a recognised human right. Water services and facilities are often designed in a standard way, without considering the diversity of requirements of different user groups. Particularly in the rapid response phase, where time and money are limiting factors, traditional and standard designs are often preferred. However, there is a wide range of different abilities and requirements in any affected community, and traditional designs will inevitably result in people being excluded from otherwise well-intentioned water facilities and services. Inclusive designs should be considered in all phases of the response and throughout the complete humanitarian programme and project cycle and in Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs). Protection principles and mainstreaming disability, age and gender in the assessment, planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages are humanitarian standards that must be followed to ensure everyone can exercise their right to water.
An inclusive and equitable (or universal) design approach considers diversity as an integral part of society, and the requirements and rights of different groups and individuals are equally valued and properly balanced. Persons with disabilities are estimated to represent 15% of the world’s population and include persons of different genders and ages with long-term visual, hearing, speech, physical, psychosocial or intellectual impairments. Too often, institutional, social or environmental barriers prevent them from equally and meaningfully participating in society, and because they are among the most marginalised persons in crisis- effected communities, they are also disproportionately affected by emergencies and conflicts.
Inclusive programming aims to actively engage all user groups and to identify and remove such barriers. Inclusive design aims to create facilities and environments that can be used by everyone, irrespective of age, gender, disease, impairment or other discriminative characteristics. Safety, protection, dignity and autonomy, improves health and well-being, provides social support systems and counteracts stigma, targeted violence and ignorance. Often only minor adaptations or design improvements are needed to make WASH facilities more inclusive, and these generally come with little additional costs, particularly when considered in the design stage. For physical accessibility, an additional budget of 0.5–1% should be considered, and for non-food items and assistive devices, an additional 3–4 % may be needed.
To be inclusive, all potential user groups need to be adequately considered and actively engaged in the design of water supply facilities and services. This inexhaustive list includes persons with different disabilities, people of different ages (especially older persons and children), sick or injured people, pregnant women, and women and girls who have specific requirements for their safety. People may belong to different user groups at the same time (intersectionality), and some of the potential user groups may be hidden or less visible. It is essential that facilities are built from the perspective of the persons concerned, and those concerned should be consulted and actively involved in the program design and implementation process. Otherwise, invisibility in data leads to invisibility in programs. Data needs to be disaggregated based on at least gender, age and disability, and the different user groups should participate meaningfully in all phases of the project cycle to identify requirements, barriers, enablers and risks.
Inclusive programming requires a twin-track approach that combines inclusive mainstreaming in WASH programmes with targeted interventions for persons with disabilities. First, mainstream interventions designed for the entire population need to include persons with disabilities, e.g. accessible water points with clear signage. Second, WASH programmes need to address the specific requirements of persons with disabilities by providing targeted interventions, e.g. transportation allowances and adapted jerrycans. Within both tracks, the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities is crucial and can be achieved through the development of collaborative partnerships with the disability community. Interventions, adaptations and/or design improvements to ensure an inclusive approach to water supply may include:
Assessment and monitoring
Availability of accessible water facilities
Reaching the facility
Accessing the facility
Using the facility
Carrying, storing and using water
Jones, H., Wilbur, J. (2014): Compendium of Accessible WASH Technologies WEDC, WaterAid, Share, UK
Jones, H., Reed, B. (2005): Water and Sanitation for Disabled People and Other Vulnerable Groups WEDC, Loughborough. UK
ADCAP Consortium (2018): Humanitarian Inclusion Standards for Older People and People with Disabilities CBM, HelpAge, Humanity & Inclusion., Bensheim, London, Lyon. Germany, UK, France
CBM (2017): Humanitarian Hands-On Tool. Step-by-Step Practical Guidance on Inclusive Humanitarian Field Work CBM, Bensheim. Germany
DIAUD & CBM (2016): The Inclusion Imperative: Towards Disability-Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development Disability Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development Network (DIAUD) and CBM
IFRC, Humanity & Inclusion, CBM (2015): All Under One Roof: Disability-Inclusive Shelter and Settlements in Emergencies IFRC, Geneva. Switzerland
IASC Task Team on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action (2019): Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action
Humanity & Inclusion (2018): Disability Data Collection. A Summary Review of the Use of the Washington Group Questions by Development and Humanitarian Actors
UNICEF (2017): WASH Guidance. Including Children with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action UNICEF, New York. USA
UNICEF (2018): WASH Technical Paper. The Case for Investment in Accessible and Inclusive WASH UNICEF, New York. USA
World Bank Group (2017): Including Persons with Disabilities in Water Sector Operations World Bank Group, Washington D.C. USA