Health & Sanitation

  • Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. That’s wrong. We all have the right to clean water. Oxfam is providing life-saving clean water, and sanitation and hygiene education in some of the world’s poorest countries, as well as in areas struck by humanitarian crises.

Ukraine Refugee Crisis Our Response

Registration centre in an old Tesco building. Oxfam staff present to discuss the needs. Photo: Tineke Dhaese/Oxfam

The war in Ukraine is threatening the lives and livelihoods of civilians and forcing millions to flee. Homes have been destroyed or are unsafe to live in. Families are being separated and people injured and killed. Heavy fighting, shelling and air strikes across Ukraine have had devastating consequences for its citizens. Critical infrastructure such as health facilities, water supplies and schools have been damaged or destroyed. Huge numbers of refugees are arriving into Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and other neighbouring countries with only what they can carry.

Delivery of hygiene and sanitation items at Ukraine House. Photo: Tineke Dhaese/Oxfam

Oxfam is supporting the humanitarian system both in Ukraine, and specifically in Poland, Moldova and Romania to reach between 10-25% of affected people –up to 800,000 or more if possible –with what they need.

We are channelling our support, expertise and funding through local organisations –those who are working directly with the refugees themselves –helping them to expand their own capacities and impact.

Oxfam will ensure that this collective response is guided by humanitarian principlesof humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality, and by using a feminist approachthat prioritises ways that prevent risks to women and girls and is informed always by gendered analysis.

Together with our partners, we are also advocating for more political and economic support, both internationally and nationally, to refugees so they are able to realise their rights, in safety and dignity.

Two disabled toilets in Medyka. Photo: Tineke Dhaese/Oxfam

Oxfam Response

Michelle Farrington, Hygiene and Sanitation Promotion in Poland discusses Oxfam’s Response. At the moment Oxfam is providing basic water and sanitation facilities and hygiene items that people can take while traveling on to their final destinations.

Michelle Farrington, Oxfam Hygiene & Sanitation Promotion - Ukraine Refugee Crisis Our Response

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Protection

Ola Perczynska, Protection Coordinator in Poland discussing Oxfam’s response. Ola is originally from Poland but has a long experience as a humanitarian in conflicts and crisis around the world.

Ola Perczynska, Protection Coordinator with Oxfam - Ukraine Refugee Crisis Our Response

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WASH

At a refugee centre in the border area of Korczowa in Poland. A shopping centre is being used to accommodate incoming Ukrainian refugees.

Angus Mc Bride, Wash Coordinator discusses Oxfam's response of installing shower facilities and hand washing stations to meet the health and hygiene needs at this centre.

Angus Mc Bride, Oxfam Wash Coordinator - Ukraine Refugee Crisis Our Response

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Work with Oxfam Partner

Oxfam is channeling around 44% of its funding response via national partners in Poland, Romania and Moldova; a further 18% via international partners in Ukraine itself; 30% on its own humanitarian aid, equipment, technical and operational response; and 9% on a Program Management Team that sets, and is accountable for, strategy, policy, management and administration of the entire response.

Lilya Kalinowska Volunteer Coordinator at Ukrainian House - Oxfam

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Lilya Kalinowska Volunteer Coordinator at Ukrainian House talks about working with Oxfam and the start of this partnership. Oxfam is meeting the immediate hygiene needs and plans to develop this to provide more longer term logistical, sanitation and protection supports.

Thank you to all who have supported our work. In Poland, Oxfam have already reached more than 225,000 people. We are concentrating on protection, water and sanitation, and food and economic security. We are providing cash and basic sanitation facilities for families in need of urgent assistance.

Equal Right To Refuge Campaign

Oxfam has worked on migration and displacement within Europe since 2015. With our partner organisations we have assisted more than 280,000 people in Greece, Italy, Spain, and the Balkans. Together we have provided them with legal aid, protection, water and sanitation activities, and distributed food and non-food items such as blankets and clothes. But not all refugees are being treated equally.

Equal Right To Refuge - Oxfam Ireland

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Millions of people have cross Ukraine’s border into neighbouring countries seeking safety and refuge. Wherever you come from, your right to seek safety and find refuge is the same. At the end of last year, the number of people forced to flee in search of refuge exceeded 84 million globally. At any border in Europe –Ukraine or beyond – we cannot have a system that treats people differently for any reason, including where they come from.

Ukraine Appeal | Help Today

Nearly 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homes from the war, 5 million into neighbouring countries.


Oxfam have a busy partner-led humanitarian response running in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and Romania, aiming to reach up to 800,000 people, or more if possible.
In Poland, we have already reached more than 225,000 people.


We are concentrating on protection, water and sanitation, and food and economic security. We are providing cash and basic sanitation facilities for families in need of urgent assistance.

Thank you for your continued support.
 

Why is Clean Water Important?

Oxfam built a water desalination system powered by wind and solar energy on the west coast of Yemen to help families get clean water.
Oxfam built a water desalination system powered by wind and solar energy on the west coast of Yemen to help families get clean water. Pablo Tosco / Oxfam Intermon

Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene save lives during emergencies and in the long-term struggle against poverty.

When a sustained drought in southern Ethiopia in 2017 killed all of Amina Ibrahim’s sheep, goats, and camels, it was an economic crisis for her family. Then the lack of safe drinking water became an even bigger threat. People in her village started drinking whatever water they could find, got sick (most likely from cholera, but Ibrahim could not say for sure), and started dying.

“I thought I would die also,” the 50-year-old mother of 12 said later. She and her family fled to a nearby town where Oxfam and the Ethiopian government provided clean water, decent latrines, and cash-for-work projects so she could buy some food.

Like Ibrahim, more than 2 billion people in the world lack a source of safe water at home, and as many as 4.5 billion don’t have a safe sanitation system either, according to the UN. It’s a crisis during emergencies, especially the current COVID-19 pandemic. But the long-term effects of unequal access to clean water and decent sanitation in people’s day-to-day lives are also a major contributor to poverty. That’s why water, sanitation, and hygiene are priorities for Oxfam’s work--which supporters like you make possible.

Clean water saves lives

Any conflict or emergency that drives people from their homes and forces them to gather in places with no safe drinking water or sanitation systems creates conditions that are ripe for water-borne diseases.

Cholera is one of the most severe diseases: When about a million Rwandans fled violence to eastern Congo in 1994, there were as many as 60,000 (some estimate 80,000) cases of cholera. Within about a month, more than 40,000 people died. In Yemen, more than six years of conflict has so severely damaged water systems that the country has endured a multi-year cholera epidemic that has killed thousands.

Oxfam helps reduce the threat of diseases in emergencies by providing clean water. With partners, we treat local water sources, or bring water to areas hosting refugees and displaced people by truck, store it in tanks and bladders, and set up pipes and taps to dispense it. We dig and repair wells, and train people to maintain them, so that after the emergency passes communities have a safe source of water.

Oxfam works with engineers to repair municipal water systems damaged in conflicts and earthquakes. After bombings in the Gaza Strip damaged water desalination plants in 2020, for example, Oxfam provided the chemicals needed to get them up and running. We also build systems to purify water where needed.

After air strikes damaged municipal water systems in northern Gaza in May 2021, Oxfam helped rebuild the sanitation system in Beit Lahia.
After air strikes damaged municipal water systems in northern Gaza in May 2021, Oxfam helped rebuild the sanitation system in Beit Lahia. Hosam Salem/Oxfam

Promoting good hygiene is also essential, especially during a pandemic. Oxfam partners train community leaders to encourage handwashing at critical moments. We provide hygiene kits with soap, water purification tablets, and other necessities that help people displaced by emergencies keep clean and avoid cholera outbreaks and COVID-19.

Safe sanitation is also crucial. Oxfam helps install latrines where people need them and ensures they are sited appropriately for women to access safely (installing solar lights if needed). Oxfam helped build about 8,000 latrines in the months following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. After more than 800,000 Rohingya people fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017, Oxfam worked with the UN and people seeking refuge in camps to build a massive sewage treatment plant that processes waste from 150,000 people.

Clean water fights poverty

The lack of clean water kills people every day, and water-borne diseases and parasites are a significant hardship . Children under 5 are the most vulnerable. Diarrheal diseases are among the most common causes of mortality for children under 5, and can be easily prevented with clean water, decent sanitation, basic hygiene, and nutritious food.

A convenient source of water can also be a major improvement in the lives of women and girls, who are frequently tasked with carrying water home many times per day. Many girls and young women are deprived an education, just to carry water. This relegates them to an early marriage and limits their prospects of employment.

By helping communities improve their access to clean water and basic sanitation, and promoting good hygiene, Oxfam and the many organizations we partner with make an important contribution to fighting inequality, eliminating at least some of the time women have to spend carrying water, reducing health care costs, and improving the educational prospects of their daughters.

Water for livestock and growing food

Water is becoming more and more scarce in some parts of the world due to climate change. For example, in Central America’s Dry Corridor, an arid zone cutting across five countries, farmers are struggling to grow enough food to survive. In 2019, Oxfam provided cash and food aid to communities in Guatemala’s southern Chiquimula region at a time when farmers had not seen any consistent rain for four years.

Lucas Aldana used the cash to plant corn and beans, and says “I bought a hose to improve my mini-irrigation system so that the plants … don’t dry up.”

Oxfam has helped communities around the world with irrigation systems for farmers, water reservoirs to support livestock herders, and training to help communities manage their watersheds and forests to reduce erosion, improve soil quality, and replenish ground water.

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Climate, conflict, and COVID-19 crisis in Horn of Africa

A man brings his herd of camels to a well near the Jarar river in southern Ethiopia. Years of dry weather in Ethiopia and Somalia, combined with conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, are creating a humanitarian crisis. Pablo Tosco / Oxfam Intermon

A combination of factors is spreading suffering across the region. Oxfam is working with partners to alleviate hunger and push for solutions.

Countries in the Horn of Africa are enduring severe hunger, with near-famine conditions in some areas, due to conflict, climate-induced weather shocks (flooding in some countries, drought in others) and COVID-19.

Oxfam is working with local humanitarian groups in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia to deliver emergency assistance and address the underlying causes of hunger.

Ethiopia

Fighting between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the government began in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in late 2020. More than nine million people in Tigray and neighboring Amhara and Afar regions need humanitarian assistance.

One of them is Dagmawit (name changed for security reasons), a 35-year-old mother of three children who left her home in Amhara during fighting in September. ‘‘We fled from our town to save our lives and the lives of our children,” she says.

I don’t know if my husband escaped, which direction he may have gone, or where he is now. I followed other people who were fleeing the gun battle …. Thank God we arrived here safe.’

She found temporary safety in a center for displaced people in Ednat, where Oxfam is working with the Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara (ORDA) to provide water and sanitation supplies, and cash to help displaced people purchase essentials in the local market.

Oxfam and ORDA’s joint response has reached more than 6,000 people with cash, water and safe sanitation, and hygiene kits. Together, we have constructed latrines, bathing facilities, and clean water distribution points. Oxfam is also working with organizations in the Tigray and Afar regions, providing water and sanitation, as well as cash, where possible. In the next year, Oxfam and partners plan to assist 750,000 people with emergency food packages, livelihoods assistance, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene kits.

More than half of the people affected by the fighting in northern Ethiopia are women, and 48 percent are children. To date, Oxfam has reached more than 105,000 people across the three regions affected by the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Oxfam’s program in Ethiopia is also engaged in a long-term response to ongoing drought in the southern Somali region, where we are planning to help 180,000 people with clean water and sanitation and livelihood support for farmers and herders affected by conflict and drought.

South Sudan

South Sudan has experienced widespread seasonal flooding for five consecutive years. Since May 2021, an estimated 835,000 people have been affected by flooding along the White Nile, when early seasonal rain caused the rivers to flood areas across the north of the country. Entire communities have fled to higher ground, and about 366,000 people are currently displaced.

Nyakaal Kel Madoot, 56, says she and her nine children escaped the flood waters inundating their home in Ganyiel, and now says, “The biggest issue I am facing with my children is hunger.” She says the area in Lakes State where she has found higher ground with other displaced people lacks clean water and proper sanitation.

The recent flooding also hit areas recovering from conflict, and the threat of COVID-19 is particularly severe in areas where people are already malnourished.

Oxfam has been working in South Sudan for 30 years and is collaborating with local organizations to help 130,000 people with clean water, safe sanitation facilities, essential hygiene items, and hygiene education carried out by community members. Oxfam is helping to distribute seeds, tools, fishing equipment, and providing cash to 3,300 households to help them buy food and other essentials.

We are also helping to rebuild schools, provide alternative education to children displaced by conflict in South Sudan, and advocate for women and young people to be involved in peace talks and in setting the course for a peaceful South Sudan.

What's happening in South Sudan report from Oxfam's Michael Pepple

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Somalia

Somalia is in the midst of a protracted period of drought, made worse in the last year by an upsurge in desert locusts that have eaten crops and pasture. Conflict and the pandemic have also contributed to a severe deterioration of living conditions. The UN and other humanitarian groups estimate 7.7 million people (roughly half of Somalia’s population) will need humanitarian assistance in 2022.

Lack of water and pasture are affecting the health of both people and livestock. “I had 128 cows before the drought,” says Hassan Sagar, 72, sitting in a makeshift shelter in an area hosting displaced people in Somalia’s southern Jubaland state. He fled his home village of Kaima, 30 kilometers (18 miles) away, in search of water and food along with other families that had lost all their livestock—which for many is their sole means of livelihood. “People here share the same predicament,” he says. “No one came here with even a single goat.”

Drought in southern Somalia’s Jubaland region is hitting livestock herders like Hasan Sagar particularly hard: “I had 128 cows before the drought. But only one cow was spared.” Osman Hussein / Oxfam

Oxfam is working with the Wajir South Development Association (WASDA) in Jubaland to provide water and sanitation to help displaced people avoid water-borne diseases like cholera, as well as livelihood assistance and nutrition support. Our goal is to reach 10,000 people with WASDA in Jubaland and 183,000 people in total across Somalia. Oxfam’s plans include well drilling to provide clean water and helping 24,600 people by distributing cash. We also plan to provide seeds and tools and training for 1,000 farmers in small-scale greenhouse farming. We will also support livestock vaccination campaigns, and train local volunteers how to prevent gender-based violence.

Simple Water Solutions, Diverse Benefits

Photo: Abdiaziz Adani/Oxfam

"I collect water four times per day for our household's cleaning, laundry, and other uses. Where I used to collect water was 40 minutes away," explains Caasha Xasan, a mother of seven who lives in Barwaaqo IDP camp in Kismayo.

Recurrent drought in Somalia caused not only food insecurity and displacement but there is also severe water scarcity in rural and urban areas. Rainwater is the primary source of water, and lack of adequate water storage facilities worsens the situation as any rain quickly dissipates.

In many parts of the country, the physical and economic accessibility of water remains a challenge for the poorest and most marginalized communities. Women, who are traditionally responsible for collecting household water, are often most at risk of violence and other risks when fetching water. "Where I used to collect water was 40 minutes away. We would collect water by hand and carry it. Only sometimes would we use donkeys. It would take 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back," says Caasha Xasan.

Photo: Abdiaziz Adani/Oxfam

Because of the long distances to the water facilities, women spend extensive time collecting water, struggling to get enough time to feed their children and do other household chores, which are burdens that reduce other opportunities for women's empowerment, such as study or work.

As part of our humanitarian response in Somalia, Oxfam and partner WASDA rehabilitated four shallow wells in Kismayo IDP camps, intending to ensure regular and easy access to water and provide women with more time to pursue other endeavors.

 "We get lots of benefits from the shallow wells. Firstly, it's very close to the front of my house. I can fill jerry cans at any time, so I don't need many jerry cans. Now, I do household chores and support my children in my spare time. It would be difficult to prepare food for them before, but now it's easier. I feed them before school. It's also beneficial for the broader family," says Caasha.

Photos: Abdiaziz Adani/Oxfam
Besides the benefits that she gets from the water kiosk, Caasha believes these facilities have improved integration amongst displaced people and host communities. "We benefit a lot thanks to Oxfam and WASDA. The town has improved as a community because we share all the benefits, which reduces clashes over resources. We are united," she concluded.
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