Community Engagement in Humanitarian WASH Responses

The overall aim of Oxfam’s WASH response in emergencies is to minimise public health risks in relation to water, sanitation and hygiene. This means working more directly with a wide range of people affected by the crisis to better understand them, to motivate them to make positive behaviour changes, and to strengthen their capacity to reduce/prevent public health risks and make their own decisions. We call this work community engagement (CE).

Community participation has always been the backbone of Oxfam’s emergency WASH programmes. But the way we do it now is different, with greater emphasis on forward planning and a deeper focus on building trust with crisis-affected populations to put them at the centre of our WASH programme. In practice, this involves continuous interaction and appropriate consultation with diverse community groups in relation to WASH facilities and services, acting on their concerns in a timely manner, and providing feedback on all changes made.


The following guides have been produced to provide greater clarity around CE in WASH, to explain how the approach is different to previous ways of working (rather than entirely new), and to deliver straightforward guidance around how to implement CE into emergency response programmes.

Minimum Requirements

WASH staff should:

  • Work with human resources staff to identify relevant legal issues when engaging volunteers or committees.
  • Use a clear and transparent mechanism for selecting volunteers and committee members, which has been agreed with the entire community (i.e. not just leadership).
  • Promote the equal representation of women – not only in numbers, but also in terms of decision-making powers – amongst volunteers, and also representation of vulnerable groups and different ethnic groups.
  • Maintain a database of committee members, with details including training and incentives received.
  • Ensure clarity between Oxfam and the affected community in the roles and responsibilities of volunteers, including any incentives that might be offered. This should be done before the start of activities. It is good practice to agree a MoU or Action Plan with the affected community. This should not reflect a ‘shopping list’ of desires but be the result of an open conversation about what is feasible in what timeframe and the constraints faced by both the community and Oxfam.
  • Co-ordinate volunteer issues internally with other Oxfam programmes. Do not automatically assume that WASH volunteers should be used for other programmes and visa versa.
  • Co-ordinate the recruitment of volunteers and the formation of committees within the WASH Cluster, advocating for consistency of approach to recruitment and working practices with volunteers (including any incentives offered to volunteers).
  • Link volunteers and committees with government structures as appropriate. If there are already government health workers engaged in health/hygiene education assess the feasibility of working to build this groups’ capacity instead of training more community hygiene volunteers. In discussion with the affected community:
  • Make contingency plans for remote management of volunteers and other unexpected challenges (specific to the context).
  • Prepare and implement appropriate capacity building plans for volunteers.
  • Forward plan appropriate capacity building plans for volunteers and an exit strategy.