WASH for health this World Toilet Day

On World Toilet Day, Saturday 19 November, we highlight UNHCR’s work in the field providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene management (WASH) for refugees and displaced people worldwide.

According to Australia’s largest water and wastewater service provider, Sydney Water, on average each Australian uses approximately 295 litres of water a day. A refugee, by comparison, will have as little as 20 litres a day to drink, wash and clean with.

Within the first three days of any refugee emergency UNHCR’s WASH programs are in action to ensure the survival and safety of people displaced by conflict or disaster.

At the first stage of a crisis UNHCR will conduct an ‘initial rapid WASH assessment’ to identify local geographical information, available water sources, pollution risks, soil conditions, sanitation habits and needs, logistical plans, costs and operational needs. UNHCR then works quickly to implement temporary WASH infrastructure in partnership with staff, NGO partners and the local governments.

It starts with shelter

WASH programs are a core part of UNHCR’s planning for camps, including outside camps and in urban areas. From the start UNHCR sets about providing access to clean water, showers and latrines; without safe access to these, refugees are vulnerable to poor health and other dangers.

Danger on route

Walking long distances to clean drinking water, or toilet points, can put women and children at risk of sexual and gender based violence. UNHCR provides safe access points to significantly help reduce this risk.

Life interrupted

Up to 84% of refugees are women and children, and often bear the burden of collecting water for their families. In one refugee camp in Uganda, almost half of refugee children will have their schooling interrupted with water collection duties. Women too miss out on opportunities to participate in livelihood activities and education as a result of their water collecting responsibilities.

Waste and health

Human waste disposal is an essential part of UNHCR’s sanitation programs, without adequate sanitation refugees are vulnerable to water born diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Hygiene for health

Often people displaced by violence and or disaster flee with little to none of their possessions. They arrive in camps without essentials like food, shelter and adequate clothing, let alone the means to keep clean and healthy. UNHCR provide refugees with soap, hygiene and toiletry kits including sanitary pads, and where needed community education on hygiene management.

LEFT: Martha Achek Deng, with her easy-to-spot yellow umbrella, is a Sanitation Volunteer for UNHCR’s community hygiene education program. RIGHT: UNHCR WASH Officer Kadessou Djarmatna checks the water quality at one of the 56 water points in Minawao refugee camp, northern Cameroon.

2015 WASH in action

With the generous support of Australian donors, in 2015 UNHCR provided refugees worldwide with:

20 litres of water per person, per day. Increase from the previous 15 litre minimum

Community WASH education for 2.1 million people

146,800 sanitary facilities and latrines

2,300 water taps

220 wells

Help WASH this World Toilet Day

A little can go a long way to ensuring the health and safety of people fleeing for their lives. These basics get refugees back on their feet and ready for a bright future in safety.

$22 is enough to provide safe water to keep 50 refugees alive for a day in an emergency situation

$33 can provide one year’s worth of soap for 10 refugees

$78 can provide two refugee families each with a ceramic water filter to clean water in the home and protect their health


Australians can support the health of refugees worldwide this World Toilet Day at unrefugees.org.au/shelter or by phoning 1300 885 997.

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