|Water and Sanitation in Emergencies - Good Practice Review 1 (ODI, 1994, 120 p.)|
|3. The Operating Environment: General Considerations|
Displaced Populations. When an emergency involves the displacement of a population, the agency charged with the provision of water and sanitation is usually working from a basis of little or no infrastructure. The population will probably have settled where it feels safe and is within reasonable access to water. It is likely that the site it has chosen, or which has been chosen for it by the government or an international agency, will be remote, undeveloped and will offer little in terms of natural resource potential. Indeed, the fact that the land is available almost certainly means that the local populations have chosen not to utilise it for those very reasons. Under such circumstances an agency is faced with the enormous task of establishing appropriate water supply and sanitation systems in the shortest possible time.
The displaced population will have moved, if possible, as a unit, e.g. as a family, village, or district. Full use should be made of this factor as communities of this kind will have brought their own social structure with them, and this will be very helpful in terms of organising responsibilities, labour and the management of systems.
There will be large numbers of people in a confined area. In effect, virtually overnight rural populations are faced with living in conditions of very high urban population density. For many rural people this will be the first time they have experienced such living conditions and they will be unaware of the implications the situation has for their health.
In contrast, there are occasions when the small numbers of people settling in a particular area make it difficult to deliver, or possibly to justify the expense of, the level of service that is needed. This is most likely to be the case with people who have been displaced within their own country and who prefer to settle as near as possible to their home area. This was the situation on a large scale in the Ruhengeri region in northern Rwanda when overnight 900,000 people were displaced by fighting in February 1993. Large numbers of people settled in many small settlements.
Refugee populations typically contain a much higher than normal percentage of women and children. It is also probable that there will be a large number of sick, wounded and disabled people. All these groups will have their own special needs.
For these reasons it is crucial that there is a rapid and immediate response. Delays in making decisions, debating technical solutions and deploying staff can prove tragic.
Resident populations. Working with resident populations poses very different challenges for the intervening agency. The problem usually is that the established infrastructure can no longer provide the level of service required. For example, wells may have dried up or pumps broken down. The need therefore is to look at ways of rehabilitating, improving or upgrading systems so that they can continue to provide for the community.
There is a much greater need for sensitivity with respect to ongoing development initiatives in the area. For example, if there has been a long established community management structure for the maintenance of wells and an agency, seeing an emergency need, takes it upon itself to rehabilitate those same wells, it is probable that long-term damage can be imposed on the community management.
In the same context, it is important that any technical work should be sustainable. The village will continue to exist long after the emergency has run its course; attention must therefore be paid to the community's ability to live with the solutions that have been decided upon to address the immediate needs of an emergency.
Emergencies affecting resident populations will be either slow-onset i.e. drought or sudden-onset, i.e. natural disasters. In both instances the most important aspect is to identify the potential emergency as quickly as possible. If it is recognised early on that there is going to be a problem of water supply and/or sanitation with a resident population, there are less likely to be any negative long-term impacts as solutions can be carefully considered and more appropriate to the long-term needs of the community. In this context, early warning systems and disaster mitigation measures play an important role.