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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

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

Oxfam is working on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects that integrate sustainable and local innovation to meet the needs of the poorest in 52 countries. Our work encompasses public health emergency responses in humanitarian crisis, as well as a holistic, adaptable and sustainable water resource management approach for development projects including governance of water resources.

Our work means ensuring equitable access to water in both quantity and quality, which prevents disease and sustains lives and livelihoods; reducing environmental health risks by managing sanitation  safely and with dignity; and, involving women and men in managing water and sanitation resources and safe hygiene practices to maximize the benefits for their communities.

In emergencies

Oxfam is widely known for delivering high-quality public health programmes to achieve maximum impact on the health and well-being of communities affected by emergencies.

During emergencies, Oxfam's WASH teams work with communities to create an environment in which public health risks are reduced and the safety and dignity of emergency-affected communities is enhanced.

Our work covers a diverse range of contexts in which people are vulnerable to WASH-related disease, and usually leads to population displacement ) including: natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding, tropical cyclones and hurricanes); Disease outbreaks (Cholera, Ebola, etc.); slow onset emergencies (e.g. drought); conflict crisis and fragile states; and, complex situations encompassing a mixture of these factors, such as urban slums.


Oxfam believes in being proactive in finding solutions to the alarming public health crisis facing the world's poorest 2.5 billion people, and working with others to achieve change. It creates space and a culture for innovative thinking to flourish through its WaSH Innovation Fund, guided by a research and development strategy focused on key gaps in WaSH knowledge and technologies.  

The Fund - supported by Oxfam Pioneers philanthropists - plays a critical role in enabling ideas from staff and partners to be trialled, encouraging learning from failure and fostering creativity and entrepreneurship.  Key outcomes include:

  • Developing new approaches and technologies to decrease public health risk, documenting the outcomes of pilot interventions to create a body of evidence
  • Creating models of good practice for other agencies and local governments to adopt and adapt, publishing learning via academic journals, the Global WaSH Cluster and Emergency Environmental Health Forum (EEHF)
  • Supporting the development of longer-term WaSH programmes in fragile regions that can help to build resilience and preparedness for when disaster strikes

The innovation portfolio primarily focuses on identifying low cost, sustainable and community-driven WaSH solutions for fragile areas prone to natural disaster and conflict. Innovations piloted so far are providing learning towards tackling these WaSH challenges:

  1. How to provide safer and more user-friendly toilets in difficult contexts
  2. How to increase the reliability and sustainability of community water supplies
  3. How to provide access to safe drinking water where there are no clean water sources
  4. How to improve hygiene promotion through better community engagement
  5. How to harness the power of markets for equitable, sustainable access to WaSH

Historically, through innovation, Oxfam has set the standard across the sector for many approaches and technologies that are now commonly used, such as easy-to-assemble water storage tanks, water bucket, water treatment units, and latrine slab structures.

Sustainability & governance

In a fragile world where water quality is deteriorating and the availability is dwindling, Oxfam address water insecurity through fairer and more efficient management and distribution of water resources. We approach this through:

  • accessible, sustainable solutions. This involves incorporating strong community level management and ownership of WASH services to ultimately reduce aid dependency. Building on the work of humanitarian interventions, Oxfam empowers women to have a greater role in accessing and managing safe water and sanitation services. We also use market-based approaches to ensure the poorest in society are actively engaged in equitable delivery of these service.
  • effective, sustainable governance of water resources overall (including domestic and agricultural) at local and national levels. Our work drives systemic change at community, municipal and national levels to ensure sustainable, resilient and equitable access to water for women and the poorest people in societies.

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.

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