arrow_backEmergency WASH

X.10 Resilience, Preparedness and Disaster Risk Reduction

Preventative measures in advance can help reduce the severity of a disaster and streamline disaster management. Many emergency situations follow predictable patterns, and most disaster-prone regions are well known. At the same time, disaster and crisis scenarios are becoming increasingly complex, and traditional reactive relief interventions are proving insufficient. Disaster prevention or mitigation thus has an important role to play and must be considered by both relief and development actors to address underlying vulnerabilities and to build capacities to better cope with future shocks. Preventative measures that serve as an integral part of both water supply planning and national, regional and local development strategies include strengthening resilience, increasing preparedness for acute emergencies and disaster risk reduction.


At its core, resilience can be described as the ability of countries, communities, individuals or organisations that are exposed to disasters, crises, and underlying vulnerabilities to manage change. This can be achieved by anticipating, reducing the impact of, coping with and recovering from effects of adversity without compromising long-term prospects. The goal of strengthening resilience is to develop locally appropriate measures that can be incorporated into existing structures and processes and increase the capacity and capability of involved stakeholders and their self-organisation potential. This process requires longer-term engagement and investments as well as an in-depth analysis of previous emergencies, underlying causes of vulnerability and existing human, psychological, social, financial, physical, natural or political assets at the different levels of society. Important components to enhance resilience include capacity development, trainings, education, awareness raising, sensitisation and advocacy as well as improvements to the robustness and durability of implemented water supply technologies and services. Key resilience measures related to water supply include:

  • Implementing robust and durable water supply infrastructures adapted to local extreme conditions and potential emergency scenarios
  • Considering climate change adaptation measures to assure a sustainable water supply
  • Considering the effects of water supply on the natural water cycle and the sustainability of the water source, including accounting for climate change effects
  • Considering future population and settlement developments and their impact on water sources
  • Expanding capacity building to build, repair, operate and maintain water supply infrastructure
  • Conducting hygiene promotion and awareness measures
  • Establishing community structures (e.g. WASH committees and health clubs) and involvement of users in demand management
  • Developing and improving contingency management and innovation protocols

Robustness is the ability of a technology to provide a satisfactory outcome in variable environment. In emergencies, especially, it is important that water supply technologies be resilient against failure and function despite disruptions (such as power cuts, water shortages or floods). Therefore, robustness must be considered early in the planning. Given the possible uncertainties, it is advisable to consider water supply systems that are functional in a range of scenarios (e.g. elevated water points in flood-prone areas). There is no ‘silver bullet’ for planning a robust water supply option — each technology has specific strengths and weaknesses depending on the local context and available skills and capacity.

Durability is the ability of a technology to last a long time without significant deterioration. The longer a technology lasts, the fewer the resources needed to replace it. The more resistant it is to wear and tear, the fewer resources are required for operation and maintenance (O&M) and there is a lower risk of failure. Technologies should be chosen after accounting for local capacities for O&M, repair and the availability of spare parts. In some cases, it may be necessary to choose a lower level of service to avoid having essential equipment that cannot be repaired when it breaks down (e.g. pumps, grinders etc.). To increase the durability of most treatment technologies, appropriate pre-treatment needs to be considered.

Climate Change adaptation measures are becoming increasingly important to assure a sustainable water supply. Although some of the climate trends at a regional level are uncertain, there is sufficient knowledge to inform water supply policy and planning in most regions. To build resilience to climate change, emphasis should be put on both the available water resources and the demand. This includes measures to protect the water source, improve natural storage/recharge and monitor the water source, while simultaneously reducing consumption and water losses becomes even more important.


Preparedness includes all precautionary measures taken in view of anticipated disaster or crisis scenarios to strengthen the ability of the affected population and organisations to respond immediately. Preparedness is the result of capacities, relationships and knowledge developed by governments, humanitarian agencies, local civil society organisations, communities, and individuals to anticipate and respond effectively to the impact of likely, imminent hazards. People at risk and the responsible organisations and institutions should be able to make all necessary logistical and organisational preparations prior to the potential event and know what to do in case of an emergency. In addition to early warning systems and evacuation plans, key preparedness measures related to water supply include:

  • Contingency planning and developing emergency preparedness plans (EPP) for potential emergency scenarios
  • Stockpiling of WASH equipment and consumables
  • Preparing emergency services and stand-by arrangements with a clear assignment of responsibilities and jurisdiction
  • Establishing support networks among different regions
  • Capacity building and training of volunteers and emergency personnel
  • Strengthening of local structures through community planning and training

Disaster Risk Reduction and Prevention

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is an umbrella term for all preventive measures, including those described under resilience and preparedness. It aims to reduce disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and reduce causal factors of disasters. Examples of DRR include reducing exposure to hazards, reducing the vulnerability of people and property, properly managing land and the environment, and improving preparedness and early warning systems. A proper risk analysis forms the basis of adequate DRR measures by assessing the potential exposure of communities to these risks, the social and infrastructural vulnerability, and a communities’ capacity to deal with risks.

The importance of a DRR approach is being increasingly recognised by the international community. Historically, development actors have not invested significantly into DRR and prevention. In recent years, however, DRR and conflict prevention have turned into cross-cutting issues that are addressed through relief, recovery and development instruments. Non-functioning or insufficient water supply services can potentially cause disasters, and hazards in turn can degrade water services, resulting in increased disaster risk. It is therefore inevitable to consider potential disaster risks when setting up or developing water supply services, whether in relief, recovery or development. Key DRR measures related to water supply include: 

  • Reducing the potential impact of hazardous events on water supply hardware and services (resilience and mitigation)
  • Ensuring a rapid service level and structural recovery of water supply hardware and services after hazard events (preparedness)
  • Ensuring the water supply system design addresses earlier vulnerabilities (build back better and resilience)
  • Ensuring water supply services have minimal negative effects on society and on the natural water cycle and environment (do no harm)