Cookies on oxfam

We use cookies to ensure that you have the best experience on our website. If you continue browsing, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all our cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Close

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Caroline Angom collecting water from one of twelve water points in Amida displaced camp, Uganda. Credit: Geoff Sayer/Oxfam

At a glance

Our WASH programmes work in rural and urban areas, camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons and host communities in 35 countries.


Oxfam aims to address the disparity in water and sanitation coverage that exists - nearly 800 million people lack access to water and 2.5 billion to sanitation.  In 35 countries we are working on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects that integrate sustainable and local innovation to meet the needs of the poorest.  Oxfam believes everyone including the most marginalised have a right to safe water and sanitation as a basic essential service, and advocates for development of pro-poor policies that eliminate inequality that underlie the water management policies that exacerbate water scarcity.

Our approach

In Oxfam terms, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Promotion (WASH) incorporates:

  • Water: water supply for human consumption and household needs, as well as for crops and livestock needs where appropriate.
  • Sanitation: excreta disposal; solid waste management; drainage; vector control. 
  • Hygiene Promotion: community mobilisation; health data monitoring; information, education and communication (IEC); and hygiene kit distribution.

In addition to its disaster response mandate, Oxfam prioritises a preventative approach to public health, improving WASH conditions and consequentially addressing poverty reduction and quality of life.

Oxfam has WASH programmes in over 35 countries worldwide, and works in rural and urban areas, in camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons, and amongst host communities. 

Our work covers the diversity of contexts in which people are vulnerable to WASH-related disease and under-development:

  • Acute and cyclical natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding, tropical cyclones and hurricanes)
  • Slow onset emergencies (e.g. drought)
  • Conflict and political unrest
  • Complex situations encompassing a mixture of these factors, such as urban slums

Read more about Oxfam's approach to WASH in our Technical Briefing Notes.

In emergencies

Oxfam aims to play the lead role internationally in delivering high-quality public health programmes to achieve maximum impact on the health and well-being of communities affected by emergencies.

Oxfam's WASH programmes specific focus is on:

  • The provision of clean water
  • Improved sanitation and vector control
  • The promotion of activities essential for promoting health and a healthy environment
  • The distribution of items essential for health and hygiene

For further details see our Public Health in Emergencies page.


While much of Oxfam's profile in WASH is within its humanitarian programmes, significant amounts of longer-term work take place in many countries focusing on a range of issues including:

  • Water resource management
  • Agricultural irrigation
  • New water supply consortia models
  • Advocacy and campaigning

We also recognise the links between WASH and other areas of work, for example education.

This reflects the growing recognition of the central role that schools can play as catalysts for change within their wider community, as well as how poor hygiene and WASH facilities can negatively impact on a child's ability to go to school and their educational performance.

An introduction to WASH and markets

Despite the significant impact failure of WASH infrastructure and supply chains can have, traditional humanitarian responses often overlook the vital role that existing markets can play.

The Tiger Toilet system

The first of a series of webinars, this looks at the development of the Tiger Toilet system - designed to tackle the challenges of excreta disposal where de-sludging is not possible.