Water and habitat: Safeguarding public health

When conflict impedes access to clean water, safe shelter or a sustainable living environment, the consequences are severe and far-reaching.

The ICRC reduces suffering by providing clean water, shelter, and essential services, ensuring people affected by armed conflict can live safely.
Public health crises

There is a direct correlation between water shortages or poor-quality water and outbreaks of diseases, such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever.

Disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations

Women and children are more susceptible to the negative effects caused by a lack of access to safe water. They often need to walk long distances to fetch water or access sanitation facilities in unsafe circumstances.

Perpetuation of poverty

The lack of access to water, shelter and other essential services dramatically reduces a community’s ability to generate income and recover from war, conflict and other crises.

Limited access to health-care facilities and education

When water, electricity and other essential services are interrupted, hospitals and schools cannot function properly; health care is jeopardized and children lose out on their right to an education.

Helping to keep communities safe

Safe access to clean water and sanitation, shelter, electricity and other services is essential for limiting the human cost of conflict. Yet millions of people suffer the impact of unsafe or scarce water supply or interrupted power (or a combination of the two, as these services are often inextricably linked). 

Improving living conditions for conflict-affected communities

As a neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian actor, the ICRC carries out building and engineering projects to relieve suffering by working to ensure that people caught up in armed conflict have access to clean water, shelter and other essential services for a safe and healthy living environment. On both sides of the front line, we restore services such as water supply, sanitation and power, and renovate public infrastructure that has been damaged as a direct, indirect or cumulative result of conflict.

We deliver safe drinking water

In areas where sanitation has been destroyed, we provide water services directly to communities – often in emergencies.

We help repair water infrastructure

Where infrastructure such as water treatment plants, water distribution systems, wells or boreholes has been destroyed or damaged, we work with local authorities and partners to repair it.

We assess existing essential services

We help authorities and communities understand the level of essential services that they have so that, where necessary, meaningful action can be decided on and designed jointly by our engineers, other experts and local authorities.

We build and renovate facilities

In areas of growing and unplanned urbanization, public services are often inadequate, if they exist at all. Essential public infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals, is not properly maintained. We repair and build public facilities and centres for housing internally displaced people in rapidly urbanized areas.

We set up emergency shelter and facilities in conflict-stricken communities and for people on the move

We provide emergency shelter and install and renovate water distribution points in displacement camps, along migration routes, within host communities and for people under siege.

We work towards better services for detainees

We help authorities to understand infrastructure-related failures in their penitentiary systems, and accompany them in the process of finding meaningful solutions that can lead to improvements in detainees’ living conditions.

We promote respect for the environment

Our engineers use energy-saving and eco-friendly tools and techniques and take into account the impact and long-term consequences of our projects on the environment, without delaying or compromising assistance for conflict victims. 

We remind parties to conflict of their responsibilities

We work to educate and remind parties on both sides of a conflict that under the law of war they must never attack infrastructure essential to human survival.