Clean Water, Sanitation & Hygiene

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More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water worldwide and 2 billion do not have access to even basic sanitation facilities.  Half the hospital beds in developing countries are occupied by people with WASH related diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, eye and skin infections, malaria, cholera, typhoid, adding an extra burden to limited health care delivery services. Globally, one in five child deaths is due to diarrhoea.

Sanitation and hygiene interventions are lagging far behind those of almost all other development sectors including water. At the current rate, the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa will not be met until 2175, 160 years late.  Yet World Health Organisation research shows that interventions for Sanitation are incredibly effective- a staggering 16% of total lives saved for children under five can be attributed to handwashing interventions.

The lack of clean water and sanitation in the aftermath of disasters or conflict often means survivours cannot keep up good hygiene practices. This in turn  increases their vulnerability to illness including malnutrition and can lead to outbreaks of disease.


Our response

Our water and sanitation experts help communities to stay healthy by developing appropriate and sustainable solutions. We prioritise hygiene promotion in all of our WASH projects so that communities have the knowledge they need to better protect themselves from the threat of water related diseases.

We also focus on making sure health facilities have the water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure necessary to protect patients from infection. We construct latrines, put in place waste management systems and provide water sources appropriate to the specific needs of health facilities and communities alike.



How our work is transforming lives
Fighting cholera in Haiti
Cholera – a waterborne and easily treated disease – has now killed about 7,000 people in Haiti. More than half a million have been infected, according to Haitian Government figures. International Medical Corps is one of the main providers of cholera treatment and management in Haiti, bringing lifesaving and life-changing help to communities traumatized by this disease. Within eight weeks of taking over operation of the two largest Cholera Treatment Centers in the South Department of Haiti, fatality rates among cholera sufferers at the clinic fell from 14% to 0.5%.

A focus on water and sanitation projects has laid the foundation necessary for Haiti to eradicate cholera in the long term, through building latrines, hand washing stations, and waste disposal systems across urban and rural locations.

Ensuring safe water access and availability in Somalia

We are providing access to safe water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) services for vulnerable populations living in insecure and volatile areas of Mogadishu and Abudwak District.  An ongoing drought has left most berkhads [underground tanks used to collect and store rainwater and the primary source of water for most residents of Somalia] dry and damaged. The price of locally sourced water has been steadily increasing and an established system to monitor water quality does not exist.

International Medical Corps is targeting 22,000 internally displaced people and an additional 29,000 locals who urgently need improved access to water. In remote rural areas, our teams not only rehabilitate berkhads but also train community members on berkhad rehabilitation and repair to ensure that the berkhads stay usable for the foreseeable future. In areas with high population densities, such as camps for internally displaced persons in Abudwak and Mogadishu, International Medical Corps is drilling and rehabilitating boreholes to provide large populations with access to consistent clean water.

In all areas where infrastructure has been rehabilitated or developed, International Medical Corps also provides education to the community on how to store and use this clean water most effectively to improve their health. WASH teams are undertaking microbiological testing of water, both at the source and household level, to ensure water remains safe for drinking.

Supporting refugees in southern Ethiopia

Since 2009, over 150,000 refugees have fled to the Dollo Ado region of Southern Ethiopia as a result of severe drought and on-going insecurity in Somalia. International Medical Corps is working in three of the five refugee camps in this area to contribute to improving the health status of these families through the provision of sanitation and hygiene interventions.  In Melkadida camp which is home to over 40,351 people (8,070 families), International Medical Corps has constructed over 1,015 latrines and 1,160 bathing shelters.

Home visits are conducted by International Medical Corps trained Community Hygiene Promoters to spread the message of the importance of proper use of latrines and hand washing facilities, and to explain the various ways to prevent diarrheal disease, skin infections, and other WASH related diseases.   Community mobilisation and participation is key to our work, with campaigns organised on a weekly basis to maintain waste management within the camp and ensure water collection vessels are regularly sterilized to prevent contamination of the treated water after collection.

Read one young refugee’s experience with our work in Southern Ethiopia.



Just 22 hours after the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit in January 2010, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Haiti providing medical care to survivors. Our doctors and nurses were able to mobilise on an unparalleled scale to provide 24-hour emergency care to the acutely injured at the Hôpital de l’Université d’État d’Haiti (HUEH), a 700-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. HUEH was badly damaged in the earthquake and many local health care professionals were missing. We were able to save thousands of lives through emergency and trauma care in the critical days following the earthquake.

At the height of emergency operations at the hospital, International Medical Corps treated approximately 1,000 patients per day. Our early entry also gave us the foundation to rapidly expand our operations to 15 mobile clinics throughout Haiti to provide critical services. Through the hospital and mobile and fixed clinics, International Medical Corps teams provided more than 110,000 patient consultations during the first year following the emergency.

When reports of acute diarrhoea emerged from the north of Haiti in October 2010, International Medical Corps doctors and nurses immediately deployed to the region providing emergency relief for the growing cholera crisis. Our network of rapidly constructed cholera treatment centres, supported by 820 community health volunteers to educate communities on how to prevent and identify cholera, meant that more than 30,000 cholera patients received life-saving treatment within the first year following the outbreak.



Libya ambulanceInternational Medical Corps was among the first organisations to enter Libya once the conflict began in February 2011, providing emergency medical care to casualties from the fighting and support to hospitals with medical staff and supplies. Among the first challenges our Emergency Response Teams encountered was a chronic shortage of nurses, as thousands of foreign nurses had fled the country. In partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society, International Medical Corps immediately deployed volunteer nurses to health centres across eastern Libya moving them to towns and cities throughout the country as access permitted. Volunteer nurses trained the local counterparts while working alongside them.

At the country’s borders and within Libya, we supplied those displaced by the fighting with essential relief items, including blankets, bottled water and food. Recognising the danger posed by communicable diseases, our sanitation and hygiene specialists constructed latrines and washing stations in transit camps along the Tunisia borders.

Libya 5As the fighting went on International Medical Corps worked as close to the front line as possible, providing emergency treatment to those injured in the conflict, and medicines and supplies to besieged towns and cities. In Misurata, inaccessible by road, we evacuated nearly 500 injured civilians by boat. International Medical Corps’ mobile field hospitals treated the wounded from battles in Tripoli, the Western Mountains, Bani Walid, Sabha, Jufrah and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.



Mali - villagerInternational Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response in Mali in January 2013 after rebel armed forces from the north began moving south, triggering French military intervention. In Timbuktu, which had spent months under the control of armed Islamist rebel our team were amongst the first international organisations to arrive and found pillaged clinics, missing medical personnel and damaged health infrastructure.

We immediately began supporting eight strategically targeted health clinics in remote areas around Timbuktu, where the Malian Ministry of Health has been unable to maintain adequate services to local communities. By providing medicines, training staff and recruiting qualified doctors and nurses, we can ensure local people will now have access to basic primary and secondary health care for the first time in months

Mali-Road-to-TimbuktuTrue to our mission to build self reliance, International Medical Corps is also already training community health workers to go out to local markets and spread essential hygiene, reproductive health and nutrition messages. We are also working to rehabilitate clinics damaged during the conflict, by building or repairing latrines, water systems, solar panel systems and other infrastructure repairs, enabling health workers to have stable and well-equipped facilities to help the people of Mali.


Basanti & Bishal's story

Basanti, a young mother of two in Nepal, returned home from fetching water for her family to find her 8-month old son Bishal had fallen into the open cooking fire. Basanti was in shock, but she wrapped her baby in blankets and ran for help. No one in their village or at the local health post knew what to do so she had to travel more than six hours by bus to seek emergency care at the closest hospital. The district hospital could only stabilize Bishal and wasn’t able to treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist as the burned skin contracted and “healed” over the coming year, making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.

After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Adding to Basanti’s struggles, her husband abandoned the family, leaving her alone to care for Bishal and his four-year-old sister.

Thankfully, Basanti heard about the surgical care available through ReSurge International, our trusted partner with a 43-year history of serving burn victims. Dr. Rai, ReSurge’s Outreach Director in Nepal, and his team restored Bishal’s eyelid and his hand will soon be surgically repaired as well.

Even though it took more than a year for him to get appropriate treatment, Bishal is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of children never get the care they need to live a normal life after a disabling burn.


Our impact through training in 2012



Our Mother Care Group Approach


Read more about our community based approach to prevention and treatment of malnutrition