WASH in Drought

Drought causes temporary water shortages whilst aridity is a state of chronic water deficit. It is important to recognise this difference and to realise that emergency responses to drought will usually occur in semi arid areas that suffer from chronic water deficit. It is therefore vital that any WASH interventions do not undermine the populations’ coping strategies by a failure to understand those strategies.

Minimum Requirements

Integrated working with EFSVL

Close collaboration with the EFSVL team is required to ensure ‘joined up’ programming. Amongst other things this will entail:

  • Joint assessments and planning
  • Regular coordination meetings
  • Leadership and supportive management
  • A coherent approach to communicating Oxfam’s programme to communities and authorities
  • Cash for work (CFW) which can increase access to cash for targeted individuals and communities can be used to support the rehabilitation of water sources or the disposal of dead carcases. Paid labour or the use of vouchers and cash transfers can also be considered, depending on the context analysis and programme objectives.


In drought responses, an in depth assessment is critical to determine the specific PHP and PHE actions that are necessary. Use the Public Health Conceptual Model to examine the different influences on health and nutrition. The following issues should be considered:

  • Drought coping mechanisms in relation to food, water and hygiene
  • Inter and intra family food sharing practices
  • Infant and young child feeding practices
  • Community perceptions of vulnerability to disease and the links with malnutrition
  • Infant and young child caring practices and health seeking behaviour
  • Household decision making and power relations
  • An understanding of how the target population normally accesses water during the dry season and what coping strategies could be supported or reinforced is also vital.


The response must:

  • Be based on the specific outcome of the assessment in each context rather than drawn from a standard menu of interventions.
  • Have clear selection criteria to identify areas where water will be provided
  • Ensure that water provision does not encourage new settlements
  • Be tailored to specific target groups (especially communication and mobilisation)
  • Prioritise the target groups that are at greatest risk (e.g. high population density, high malnutrition rates, increased incidence of diarrhoea, nomadic populations with less than 7.5 litres pppd)


Appropriate interventions could include repairing of hand pumps, digging or deepening of hand dug wells, provision of fuel and cash subsidies.

Rainwater harvesting such as constructing ponds, contour bunds, subsurface dams and rock catchments may be appropriate as part of preparedness or second phase interventions.

Use country specific and WASH cluster guidelines for recommended water quantity.

Emergency water trucking (EWT) should be considered as a last resort option for emergency response and the following key issues addressed:

  • If EWT is to focus on settled pastoral communities, is there a risk of causing over-grazing of wet-season grazing areas (especially around EWT distribution points)?
  • Will EWT provide support to temporary mobile communities through the provision
  • of water to distant grazing areas in order to reduce pressure on scarce natural resources?
  • Are the yields of boreholes sufficient to meet the water needs of water trucks in addition to the everyday users?
  • Will EWT impact migration patterns of pastoralist populations?
  • Will the most vulnerable populations and communities be insufficiently targeted due to road access problems?
  • Water for human consumption will be prioritised and EWT should not be commenced to meet the needs of adult animals

Water provision through vouchers is an option that can be utilized in areas where a commercial water trucking market exists. (Cash transfer payments are made to the commercial suppliers for the vouchers that have been submitted by beneficiaries.)

Excreta management

Providing latrines in sparsely populated areas or where the majority of the population are nomadic must be avoided in the drought context and alternative strategies for the containment of faeces should be sought e.g. demarcated areas, defecation away from water sources, cat method, reducing risks due to animal faeces.

Public Health Promotion

The promotion of hygiene must recognise the issue of water scarcity and how this can be managed and where possible should support traditional coping strategies such as the use of leaves for washing and sand for cleaning cooking vessels.

The provision of soap and hand washing equipment may be appropriate in camps and feeding centres but it is not usually practical for regular distribution to dispersed populations such as nomadic pastoralists who move with their extended families.

Possible alternatives are:

  • The promotion of water and ash for use when no soap available,
  • The promotion of ash or locally acceptable alternatives for dry rubbing of hands when no water is available,
  • The promotion of hand cleansing at 2 critical times only (rather than all key times): before touching food and after defecation