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Water and habitat : ICRC activities worldwide

21-03-2006 Feature

In 2005, about 11 million people benefited for ICRC's Water and Habitat programmes around the world

Water and Habitat in war


Water and Habitat in war 
  Article 54, 1st Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions:

« It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive. »

Armed conflict deprives millions of people of drinking water. When its source is contaminated, damaged or destroyed, the results can be disastrous as thirst and disease add to the misery of war. When conflict strikes, housing and medical facilities are often looted and destroyed and large numbers of people driven from their homes, leaving them without adequate shelter and medical care. In conflict and post-conflict situations, the living conditions of persons deprived of their freedom are also a major concern. For the ICRC, helping the war victims to obtain access to drinking water and adequate shelter is a top priority.

Water and Habitat work has concrete and immediate results and is therefore greatly appreciated by both the population and the au thorities in charge. By means of support for existing facilities and its community-based approach, the ICRC remains in close proximity to the people it seeks to help and acts according to their priorities, proposing solutions adapted to their culture and their technological level. For the ICRC, this is an effective way to be present within and alongside the community over the medium term, making it easier to monitor the situation and carry out protection activities.

ICRC supplied 19 million people with vital water 

Providing water and sanitation in conflict zones around the world has been an ICRC priority since its Water and Habitat Unit was set up 23 years ago. In 2005, the ICRC carried out water, sanitation and construction works in 37 countries. These projects, which were implemented by 93 expatriate and 724 national engineers and technicians, catered for the needs of some 19 million people worldwide.

ICRC Water and Habitat five main areas of activity

  • Water supply, storage and distribution
  • Waste management
  • Energy supply
  • Building repair/upgrade
  • Transitional human settlements planning and running

On the basis of unmet essential needs, an assessment is carried out involving those concerned – from the affected groups to the responsible authorities – in order to define the best possible response. Programmes are then implemented in accordance with the ICRC principles and strategies. Activities range from making water safe to drink (by setting up pumps and treatment systems) to ensuring proper sewage disposal in towns and villages affected by armed conflicts and on to holding hygiene education sessions. The ICRC also repairs and, in some cases, constructs health care facilities and centres housing internally displaced people, and installs certain facilities in places of detention.

In a rapidly changing world, all humanitarian organizations face new challenges. Of particular concern for the ICRC, is finding the best way to deal with the following challenges:

  • Insufficient access to natural resources, in particular water
  • Growing and unplanned urbanization
  • Declining public services and increasing involvement of private companies
  • Environmental changes leading to long-term difficulties, such as droughts and floods
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement 
The ICRC and its partners 

Whenever possible, the ICRC works together with National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society and its volunteers. This provides an invaluable network and amount of knowledge for dealing with the local community and their authorities. National Societies make a key contribution to the sustainability of ICRC Water and Habitat projects in terms of ensuring future maintenance and engendering a sense of community involvement.

Examples of joints activities with National Societies in countries like Guinea, Sudan, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Indonesia

  • Technological responses to emergencie
  • Working with the community to improve water supply, sanitation and hygiene
  • Technical training including ‘training of trainers’
  • Coaching during projects

Since 1995, over 50 Water and Habitat projects have been implemented by 13 National Societies in 16 different countries. They include

  • Setting up and running transitional human settlements
  • Supporting urban and rural water-supply systems
  • Repairing/upgrading of socio-medical facilities

On average, a dozen engineers and architects seconded by National Societies are running ICRC’s Water and Habitat programmes in the field at any one time.

Regular contacts are maintained with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and National Societies to exchange on approaches and to develop common techniques and equipment, such as Emergency Response Units for water supply and sanitation in large-scale operations.

Engineering know-how at the service of ICRC premises 

The ICRC has 66 delegations with more than 130 sub-delegations. This requires planning, building and maintenance of offices, residences, warehouses and workshops. In addition technical expertise in the area of passive security is of paramount importance. All related technical aspects lies within the responsibility of the Water and Habitat unit. The project implementation is carried out jointly with the Administration and the security cell.

The passive security measures are aimed at protecting buildings against weapons, intruders and fire. They include:

  • Window anti blast film
  • Fences and protecting walls
  • Evacuation plans
  • Sealed rooms
  • Bunkers and protected areas
  • Sandbags
  • Concrete and iron plates



A long-term commitment  

The civil war in Sudan, which began in 1983, led to a humanitarian crisis in which large numbers of civilians were wounded, some 5 million people displaced, and public services broke down completely. Since 1984, ICRC Water and Habitat programmes have been implemented in Sudan.

In 1986, to support its assistance programmes in southern Sudan, the ICRC opened a logistic base and initiated the construction of a 450-bed hospital in Lokichokio, northern Kenya. Thus, over the years, the ICRC:

  • Maintained and upgraded the hospital, including operating theatres, accommodation for up to 600 people, 200 staff, water supply of 50’000 litres a day, waste management, electrical supply, kitchen and laundry
  • Set up and then maintained working infrastructure and accommodation for ICRC expatriates and national staff
  • Participated in the life of the local community (improving access to water, schools, fire safety)

In 1993 the ICRC began repairing Juba Teaching Hospital (600 beds) with the aim of establishing a basic level of infrastructure. In 2001, the responsibility for maintenance and repairs was handed over to the Ministry of Health. The ICRC continues to provide extensive technical and material support.

The Yirol project, one of the five Primary Health Care projects, has begun in 1998. It was developed according to a comprehensive approach, to the benefit of the county’s 130’000 inhabitants. A community water and environmental office, created and supported by the ICRC since 2003, is responsible for maintaining 60 water points that have been drilled, equipped and repaired. Local water committees, trained according to a participatory approach, carry out regular maintenance and repairs. In 2003 hygiene promotion was extended from water points to schools.

Since 1984 the ICRC has intervened across Sudan to address the detrimental effect of water shortages on people’s health, on food production and on cattle breeding particularly in Wau, Bor, Pochala, Bentiu, Al Fashir, Kutum, Malakal, Kassala and Omdurman. Whenever possible, Sudanese Red Crescent volunteers have been involved in the projects.

Since September 2003, Water and Habitat activities are developed aiming at alleviating the direct and indirect consequences of the crisis. Today, 11 expatriate engineers and more than 25 national staff are working with the affected population and their authorities. Key ICRC strategies were to balance assistance between the different groups of nomads and farmers, to focus on rural areas where presence is essential to avoid further displacement and to support water boards in urban centres. Main achievements to date:

  • Water supply to 500'000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and residents in rural areas through rehabilitation and/or new infrastructure projects.
  • Water supply developments for 200'000 IDPs living in camps
  • Designing camp layouts for 200’000 IDPs
  • Maintenance and restoration of water network capacity for 300'000 people in urban centres
  • Rehabilitation and support to health infrastructures (2 hospitals and 10 primary health care centres in the 3 provinces).
Reinforcing the livelihood of nomadic populations and internally displaced persons 

In Somalia, the ICRC focuses on providing an emergency assistance to people directly affected by the conflict.

The ICRC carries out medium-term programmes designed to maintain local coping mechanisms and preserve adequate living conditions for extremely vulnerable groups.

Bolstering the livelihood of the most vulnerable people is basically achieved through water, sanitation and irrigation projects.

The ICRC has maintained a presence in Somalia since 1982, basing its main office in Nairobi since 1994 due to the growing insecurity prevailing in Somalia.

Since 2001

  • 170 shallow wells have been built or repaired
  • 80 community berkats (traditional rain-catchment's devices) have been comprehensively repaired
  • 3’000 community berkats have been maintained through donation of cement bags
  • 70 borehole water systems have been extensively repaired
  • 15 rainwater catchments have been dredged to improve storage capacity for livestock (as a result, traditional nomadic routes and access to clean water has been secured for some 500’000 persons and their animals)

The ICRC repaired selected irriga tion systems for some 200’000 families to help maintain or restore their livelihood. In the field of Health, the Institution carried out a full rehabilitation, repair and maintenance of Mogadishu’s Medina and Keysaney hospitals, which treat more than 5’000 war-wounded patients per year.

Solutions to problems in prisons and rural water supply schemes 

In Ethiopia the ICRC is striving to respond to the needs remaining uncovered after the recent armed conflict with Eritrea and because of internal armed violence and disturbances. Those needs are often aggravated by poor seasonal rainfall. In 2004, 143'000 persons benefited from the water projects supported by the ICRC.

Community-based approach

  • The community-based programme is intended to enable people to meet their long-term water needs.
  • The ICRC acts primarily as a facilitator. Its input consists of expertise and some materials.
  • The projects are firmly rooted in the communities’ commitment to implementing them over the long term.
  • The same approach applies in the Somali Region, Gursum-Babile, Afar–Issa in Zone3 of Afar National Regional State and northern Afdem in Shinile.

Detention activities since 2000 on a yearly average basis

  • Some 12’000 prisoners in 10 places of detention benefit from projects improving access to water and 5’000 prisoners have access to proper latrines, showers and washbasins.
  • Kitchens in 9 places of detention are repaired and equipped with multi-fuel energy-saving stoves, which benefits further 10’000 detainees.
  • 5’000 prisoners benefit from improved control of disease vectors in their cells.

Water and Habitat projects in Tigray

  • The ICRC has striven to ensure that displaced people returning home to war-damaged Tigray have the capacity to begin rebuilding their lives.
  • More than 20 water points have been upgraded to serve some 8’500 people.
  • Over 3’000 families have received shelter material.
  • In conjunction with the regional health board, the ICRC has upgraded a major health-care centre in Fatsi.
Addressing basic needs for victims of the 1998-2000 conflict 

In Eritrea, the ICRC is striving to respond to needs remaining uncovered following the 1998-2000 armed conflict with Ethiopia. The priorities are twofold: to assist people displaced or otherwise affected by the conflict and to ensure that prisoners of war and civilians of Ethiopian origin enjoy the protection due to them under the Geneva Conventions. Since 2000, engineers have been committed to ensuring an adequate supply of clean water and decent sanitation conditions in the various internally displaced persons camps.

In 2002, a new programme was launched to facilitate resettlement of particularly vulnerable and female-led families in their villages of origin. It has two components:

  • Housing projects – under way – including the repair or reconstruction of houses damaged or destroyed during the conflict. So far, more than 400 houses have been repaired or built.
  • An energy-saving programme has been launched in cooperation with the Ministry of Mines and Energy. By the end of 2004, 2’900 improved Ingera ovens had replaced traditional cooking stoves, thus reducing the firewood consumed by 50%.

From 2001 to 2003, the ICRC repaired five health-care facilities in Gash Barka and one Debub, all severely damaged during the last conflict. The hospitals of Tesseney and Mandefera were partially repaired. In Zobas Debub, Gash Barka and Zoba Southern Red Sea – within the Temporary Security Zone – rural water systems damaged during the conflict are being repaired in order to improve public health. In addition, since early 2004 an extensive water-supply programme has started in cooperation with the Water Resources Department.

Acute emergency 

The ICRC has been carrying out Water and Habitat activities in Liberia since 1990, with varying degrees of involvement, according to the intensity of the conflict. Activities have ranged from major repairs to the electrical power plant and the water supply system in Monrovia in the early 1990's to the current water supply and sanitation programmes for internally displaced persons living in camps, for returnees who are back in their home villages, and for residents and displaced who were trapped in the capital during the acute emergency last summer.

Last emergency response in 2003

  • During the acute phase of the crisis, the ICRC supplied safe drinking water (80’000 litres daily) to 30 centres for internally displaced persons, orphanages, detention centres and hospitals in central Monrovia.
  • Apart from water trucking, the ICRC constructed 35 wells, more than 600 pit latrines and 122 bathhouses.

Consolidation activities

  • Before and after the 2003 crisis, the ICRC improved water and sanitation facilities in camps for displaced people by constructing wells, multi-pit latrines, bathhouses and garbage pits.
  • Hospitals in Buchanan and Tubmamburg were partially refurbished.
  • In Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties, ICRC has planned wide-ranging activities involving the construction of wells and latrines, the chlorination of wells, the rehabilitation of health centres, and hygiene education.
Sierra Leone 
From emergency to development 

The ICRC has been carrying out Water and Habitat work in Sierra Leone since the beginning of the conflict in 1991. Peace was officially agreed in 2002, and Sierra Leone is slowly recovering. However, it remains one of the least developed countries in the world and its needs, particularly in terms of infrastructure, are still immense, especially in rural areas. The activities were covering the following: construction of wells and community latrines in rural areas, repair or construction of health-care facilities, upgrading of water, sanitation and kitchen facilities in prisons, and aid to the most vulnerable female-headed households by building houses.

The Kenema 100-bed district hospital has been completely rehabilitated, including the construction of an operating theatre, 2 wards and a gravity water scheme of 6 km length supplying both the hospital and a part of the town.

Guinea Conakry 
Drilling and environmental health activities 

The ICRC has been implementing Water and Habitat programmes in Guinea since 2001, responding to the needs of people living in unsafe areas along the borders with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. Activities consist in the rehabilitation of urban water supply systems, the drilling of boreholes in villages, the refurbishment of health structures, and improvement of living conditions in places of detention.

Urban projects

  • A team of ICRC engineers has been working to enhance the quantity of water available to more than 400’000 people living in 3 major cities in the Forest Region, namely Macenta, Guéckédou and Nzérékoré.

Rural projects

  • From 2003 to 2005, the ICRC has been running a water and sanitation programme involving the construction of 90 boreholes, equipped with hand pumps, and 900 latrines in villages in the Forest Region bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, where government or development agencies are reluctant to go because of insecurity.
  • Trained volunteers from the National Society were promoting to the population basic rules of hygiene and proper use of the new structures.
  • Approximately 80’000 people were benefiting from this programme.

Additional activities

  • Since 2001 the ICRC has carried out repairs and made other improvements to living conditions in places of detention. Conakry Central Prison is undergoing large-scale rehabilitation work, while provincial detention centres are receiving emergency repairs, in accordance with observed needs.
Republic of the Congo 
Balanced approach to urban and rural needs 

The ICRC has been operating in the Republic of the Congo since 1994. It is running Water and Habitat programmes since 1997 in collaboration with the urban and rural water boards to improve the drinking-water supply.

Water and Habitat activities

  • Rehabilitation of 10 urban water treatment plants
  • Construction of 250 rural water supply systems (wells, spring catchments, rain catchments, gravity systems)
  • Construction of 30 communal latrines for health posts and schools
  • Rehabilitation of rural health centres
  • Total number of beneficiaries: 1’600’000 people in cities and 250’000 people in rural areas.
Democratic Republic of the Congo 
Cooperation with urban and rural waterboards 

From 1994, the ICRC worked on Water and Habitat major projects with the water authorities to ensure the population had access to clean water.

Until end of 2004

  • With REGIDESO (urban water board), over 200 water projects were carried out, focusing on Kinshasa and cities in Eastern-Congo.
  • With SNHR (rural water board) or in collaboration with NGO's, 40 gravity systems, 200 spring catchments, 300 boreholes, and 400 hand-dug wells with hand pumps were   constructed or rehabilitated.

Case study – Ndjili water treatment plant and supply network (Kinshasa)

  • Number of beneficiaries: 4 million people
  • Daily water production: 222'000 m3
  • Budget (material costs): 2.5 million USD
  Works carried out (1999-2004):  
  • Improvement of raw water intake (desanding capacity)
  • Overhaul of 8 primary motor-pumps in Europe
  • Rehabilitation of 6 booster pumping stations along the network
  • Securing of power supply at Inga Hydro-power plant
  • Training of REGIDESO technicians on operation and maintenance

Other activities

  • Rehabilitation work in 20 prisons
  • Rehabilitation of 30 health infrastructures
  • Camp construction and emergency water supply and sanitation work for displaced persons
Support to waterboards, rural hydraulics and prisons 

The Water and Habitat unit has been working in prisons in Rwanda on an ad hoc basis since 1983. Since 1994, because of the civil war and the genocide, it has been present without interruption in the 19 central prisons across the country. It has also implemented water-supply projects for the resident population and organized emergency assistance during acute crises.

Areas of intervention in the 19 central prisons (up to 120’000 detainees)

  • Infrastructure rehabilitation (kitchen, latrines, showers, cells, administrative blocks, blocks for minors,…)
  • Cooking capacity development (improved stoves saving up to 50% of wood consumption compared to the traditional way of cooking, cooking pots up to 500 litres)
  • Water supply and water storage improvement or construction
  • Sanitation, waste water and solid waste management
  • Hygiene, disinfection and personal hygiene promotion
  • Pest control

The Water and Habitat Unit focused as well on the sake of the civilians living in rural and urban areas. Dozen of rehabilitations and extensions of water treatment plants and networks, gravity fed systems and spring protections have been carried out by ICRC engineers across the whole country.

ICRC and REGIDESO: an example of partnership 

The ICRC has been active in the field of Water and Habitat in Burundi since 1988. At that time the living conditions of detainees throughout the country were the main concern. From 1993 to 1996, and then again from 1998 until today, a permanent presence of engineers enabled the ICRC to:

  • Provide an emergency response in acute crises
  • Ensure quality renovation of the different prisons
  • Work on water systems serving the displaced population and returnees in rural areas
  • Rehabilitate health structures
  • Strengthen partnership with the national water board, REGIDESO

REGIDESO is the national board responsible for water and electricity in urban centres. It is one of the few national institutions to have continued working properly throughout the conflict. It has 20 offices across the country with more than a thousand employees. While it manages existing networks efficiently, it has difficulty in coping with large-scale rehabilitation and development work.

REGIDESO - ICRC partnership

  • Joint evaluations and studies  
  • Sharing of responsibilities and costs like in Kayanza (north-east Burundi) where the ICRC takes charge of the civil engineering aspects, the water tower and the hydraulic and electrical supply, while REGIDESO is responsible for spring catchments, pipelines and extension of the electrical line
  • Joint supervision of work
  • After completion of work, operation and maintenance by REGIDESO

Main achievements of the partnership

  • 6 projects have been completed, increasing water supply for more than 600'000 people
  • 2 projects are under way, enhancing the quantity and quality of water for over 70'000 people
  • Technical training sessions for REGIDESO staff
One of the first interventions 

The ICRC has been present in Angola since 1975 from the start of the conflict that devastated the economy and left civilians dependent on humanitarian aid. Water and Habitat projects are carried out in this country since 1984 to supply water and sanitation to the victims of the conflict.

Water and Habitat activities

  • Emergency programmes in camps for internally displaced persons in Huambo, Kuito and Caala (water trucking and latrine programmes)
  • Rehabilitation of several urban water supply systems
  • Rural water supply systems construction and rehabilitation
    • Hand-dug wells with hand pumps
    • Boreholes with hand pumps
    • Spring catchments
    • Gravity systems
    • Rain water catchments
    • Construction of latrines and hygiene promotion
    • Rehabilitation of hospitals and health centres
    • Construction of 3 physical rehabilitation centres
    • Rehabilitation work in prisons

Middle East


Israel, Occupied and Autonomous Palestinian Territories 
Advocating humanitarian values 

ICRC works directly with Palestinian and Israeli water authorities, local water departments, and village councils to find ways of reducing water prices for communities that have to rely on water tankers. It also reminds Israeli authorities of their obligation, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to respect International Humanitarian Law, in particular with regards to the provision of water and sanitation services. Through bilateral interventions, all concerned authorities are informed about any water-related problem impacting human health in the West Bank. The ICRC also networks with major donors for them to reactivate water development projects, especially in areas of chronic water shortages or poor sanitary environment.

Water facts

  • In the West Bank, the average water consumption is 50 to 60 litres per capita per day for households connected to the water network. For areas not connected to the network, average consumption is 30 to 40 litres per capita per day.
  • The West Bank needs a total of approximately 90 to 100 million cubic meters (mcm) of water per year. Its actual supply is 60 to 65 mcm per year. Out of this amount, 40 mcm are purchased from the Israeli water operator Mekorot.
  • Mekorot controls 13 large West Bank production wells. Municipalities and the Palestinian Water Authority own 28 and 9 wells, respectively. In addition, there are over 1’000 agricultural wells. Many, particularly in Qalqilia, Tulkarem, and Jenin districts, are also used for domestic water supply.
  • Over 30 agricultural wells have been confiscated or destroyed during the construction of the West Bank Barrier.
  • About 180 West Bank villages, representing a population of approximately 215’000 people, are not connected to a water network.
  • During the summer, over 160’000 West Bank inhabitants rely entirely on water trucks for their water supply.
  • The average cost of tap water in Israel is about 0.6 USD per cubic meter. In the West Bank, 1 cubic meter of tap water costs 1.2 USD. Water delivered by trucks costs 4.4 USD to 5.2 USD.
  • The yearly average rainfall in the West Bank is 540 millimeters.

The ICRC provides over 90’000 vulnerable persons from Hebron, Bethlehem, Salfit, Qalqilia, Tulkarem, Nablus, and Jenin districts with potable drinking water. Projects range from water trucking in selected communities to construction of cisterns for individual families. Rural community water schemes, such as wells , boreholes, pipelines and storage tanks in need of repairs or non-existing are rehabilitated or constructed. In partnership with local actors, protection of springs and rehabilitation of neighbourhood wells are undertaken. In view of increasing sanitation problems, ICRC subsidizes vacuum tanker services and upgrades wastewater networks in urban areas.

Abu Atwan remembers buying a water tank a few years ago and becoming suspicious about its quality. After testing the water, a nearby lab found it polluted and warned him not to use it. “We had a high number of people suffering from diarrhoea and kidney failure. And that day, I understood what was behind the spread of these diseases, especially among children. We now know that many diseases are linked to water pollution”. Today, the ICRC routinely tests the quality of the drinking water it subsidizes.


Iraq has a highly sophisticated infrastructure in the areas of electricity, water supply, wastewater disposal and health care. Water and sanitation infrastructures are in a precarious state as a result of the two international armed conflicts in which Iraq was involved in 1991 and 2003 and 10 years of economic sanctions. The main problems since 1991 have been the shortage of electricity, managerial skills, manpower, consumables and spare parts, insufficient capacity of existing infrastructure, ageing water and sewage networks and lately extremely adverse security conditions.

The main aims of the ICRC’s Water and Habitat activities in Iraq can be summarized as follows:

  • To provide drinking water for hospitals, health centres and the most vulnerable persons during the two international armed conflicts that took place in 1991 and 2003
  • To rehabilitate and monitor existing water and sewage stations
  • To refurbish or rebuild outdated or heavily degraded stations, hospitals and primary health centres
  • To provide on-the-job training for operators and maintenance staff in rehabilitated stations and hospitals

Period 1991-2003

  • 400 water projects (rehabilitation or new constructions) were completed
  • 96 sewage projects (rehabilitation or new constructions) were completed
  • 11 referral hospitals were rehabilitated
  • 34 Primary Health Care centres were rehabilitated or built

During 2004 the following activities were carried out, helping to improve access to water, sanitation and health services for 7 million people:

  • 21 rehabilitation projects were completed
  • An average of 900’000 litres of clean water were distributed in poorly served areas in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kerbala on a daily basis
  • Makeshift repairs were made to prevent breakdowns in water and sewage stations and major health facilities throughout the country (an average of 50 “quick-fix” projects per month)
  • 4 projects were specifically set up for internally displaced people

During 2005, water trucking and emergency repairs in health structures and water & sewage treatment plants continued to be carried out all over the country.



Emergencies across the years 

The ICRC has been present in Afghanistan since 1983. It has implemented Water and Habitat programmes since 1988 successively during the Soviet period, the civil war, the Taliban regime and the current situation. During one of the major crises, after the fall of the Taliban, the ICRC had 30 engineers and technicians working in the country.

Emergency operations

  • Water supply
  • Sanitation systems
  • Proper habitat
  • Winterization programmes

Support to existing national structures and programmes

  • Running of urban, suburban and rural water supply projects in cooperation with the national water board
  • Follow-up of the general water situation
  • Stabilization of electricity supplies
  • Improvement of water and sanitation systems in detention centres
  • Rehabilitation of hospitals, health centres and orthotic/prosthetic centres
  • Waste management for hospitals
  • Maintenance of hospitals

Sanitation programme

  • Construction of 70,000 family latrines in Kabul, Herat, Mazar and Jalalabad
  • Hygiene promotion programme
  • Drilling of boreholes and fitting of hand pumps
  • Digging of shallow wells
South-east Asia 
Water supply, sanitation, health education and shelter 

 Indonesia - Cooperation with the National Society throughout the country  

  • Rural water and sanitation programmes for people in Aceh Province (North Sumatra) displaced as a result of the conflict between the independence movement and the government
  • Detention activities throughout the archipelago
  • Training in emergency preparedness for Red Cross volunteers
  • Ad hoc interventions after violent interethnic clashes

 Cambodia - Years of support for existing structures  

  • Construction and rehabilitation of hospitals and health centres
  • Construction of an orthotic/prosthetic centre in Battambang for victims of the conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam
  • Support for the authorities in repairing infrastructure in places of detention in order to improve the living conditions of detainees

 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  

  • Rehabilitation and extension of an orthotic/prosthetic centre treating victims of the conflict with South Korea


  • In Kunming, rehabilitation of a Chinese Red Cross orthotic/prosthetic centre treating victims of the conflict with Vietnam dating back 25 years


  • Water and sanitation projects benefiting families displaced following clashes between government forces and insurgent groups primarily on Mindanao Island
  • Ad hoc technical interventions in places of detention


  • From early 2004, the ICRC's Water and Habitat programme carried out small-scale repairs in 12 detention centres. It also maintained drinking water supply systems in remote villages affected by the conflict between Maoist groups and the government.

 Sri Lanka  

  • ICRC has been active in the domain of the Water and Habitat in the north-east of the country since 1996, drilling 75 boreholes equipped with hand pumps and hand-dug wells, carrying out more than 1’200 repairs and building latrines for about a million displaced and resident people living in remote villages, both during and after the conflict between the government and the Tamil independence movement.
  • During the war, the ICRC was the only organization able to import material from the government side to the Tamil region.

 East Timor  

  • The Water and Habitat unit has been present in East Timor since the mid 1980's and has built about 80 rural gravity-fed water systems throughout the territory.
  • During and after the violent conflict which led to the province’s independence, the ICRC developed in 2000 an emergency shelter programme for 4’000 families who had lost their houses
  • Expertise and material support were provided to the water board to help it resume production and distribution of drinking water in Dili town
  • The ICRC was responsible for the rehabilitation, operation and maintenance of Dili hospital
  • Drinking water supply systems were improved in 3 prisons


  • In 2005, the ICRC provided financial assistance and technical expertise to the Lao Red Cross Society for the construction of gravity-fed water systems in 4 remote villages with resettled population. The hygiene promotion and construction of latrines were also part of the projects.


Community-based approach

Based on close consultation with the local community, the Water and Habitat programme is transferring knowledge and skills that will enable local people to look after the new facilities.

Detention activities

Since 2000, the ICRC has worked with the Authorities to improve the living conditions in 12 detention centres around the country.

In three states of Myanmar (Shan, Mon and Kayin), a total of 50’000 people directly benefited from the programme in more than 45 villages.

The main achievements include:

  • New water sources (12 stream catchments, 15 new wells)
  • Improvements to 40 wells
  • Construction of block latrines in 38 schools
  • Distribution of basic latrines kits for 1'100 families
  • Upgrade of 10 hospitals

Tsunami response – Indonesia and Sri Lanka

Following the Tsunami natural disaster of December 2004 in Asia, a rapid emergency assistance was deployed to assist over 250'000 victims in the areas where the ICRC was present due to the conflict situation. The projects aimed to secure the essential facilities and services with the cleaning and rehabilitation of thousands of contaminated wells, distribution of tents, water trucking, the drilling or rehabilitation of boreholes, the construction of hundreds of latrines and washrooms as well as drainage of stagnant water in villages and camps. Also supplied to the local water boards were mechanical spare parts for repairs and water treatment chemicals for the production of safe drinking water. Moreover the rehabilitation of hospitals and health centres was also part of the priority projects implemented. The projects were implemented in coordination with the global humanitarian assistance efforts but most importantly in partnership with the Sri Lanka and Indonesian Red Cross Societies.

 Jammu Kashmir Earthquake – Pakistan  

Racing against the coming winter, emergency sh elter kits, including iron sheets, nails, and tools, were provided to over 10'000 families in the earthquake area of Jammu Kashmir. The most vulnerable families in the higher locations received the kits to construct improved shelters by salvaging construction materials from their damaged houses. This was in addition to the distribution of tents and emergency repairs to water distribution systems damaged by the earthquake and landslides.

Central and Latin America


Central and Latin America 
Support for communities in isolated areas 


In the frame of the civil war, 3 Water & Habitat engineers in a row were involved from 1998 to 2001 to complement the activities of the health brigades with water systems rehabilitations, sanitation, hygiene promotion and the construction of 5 health posts.

 El Salvador  

Between 1980 and 1986, the ICRC assisted over half a million displaced persons living in rural areas controlled by the guerrilla. Many families in rural areas were displaced during the fighting. While some found accommodation with local families, most were forced to live outdoors in difficult conditions. The ICRC provided them with building materials, basic medical and household items and food. As public infrastructure were in large part destroyed (bridges, reservoirs, water distribution and electricity networks), the ICRC ran Water and Habitat projects to rebuild water catchments, reservoirs and distribution lines for villages and displaced communities. Large rural areas were cut off from the rest of the country as a result of the armed conflict. In response to the resulting drop in public health and environmental standards, the ICRC carried out sanitation and latrine-building programmes.

 Mexico / Chiapas  

After the events that mobilized indigenous communities in 1996, the ICRC offered to intervene to ease relations between groups living in the same regions. After the crisis, local infrastructures were in a poor state, not just because of lack of maintenance, but also because of a loss of know-how in running public facilities. As public infrastructure (e.g. water reservoirs and distribution systems) were destroyed in 1999, the ICRC set about building new reservoirs equipped with sand filters in order to provide safe water to populations in need. Construction work was undertaken to improve the Red Cross offices and its national primary health care set-up in San José Del Rio and San Miguel.


From 1979 to 1987, the ICRC had a specific operational set-up in Nicaragua, which enabled it to reach the resident and displaced population living in remote areas affected by the conflict. To reach people in need of assistance in the central areas of the country a jetty strong enough to resist to frequent hurricanes had been constructed in Bluefields. Internally displaced people returning to their villages were given technical and material support, for instance wooden planks, posts, beams, boards, corrugated iron sheets, nails and tools. These had to be transported by truck and boat to remote communities along the Herrera River. Water and Habitat interventions were carried out in two main prisons. One of the main achievements was the complete rehabilitation of the sewage drainage system in the Tipitapa prison.



From emergency repairs to sustainable rehabilitation 

ICRC carried out 3’770 projects in around 470 different towns and villages in all parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Amongst the 1’260 institutions the ICRC helped, most important partners were the municipal water boards that received 80% of the total assistance provided.

The ICRC approach can be divided in two major phases. The first one consisted in providing water treatment chemicals, spare parts, tools, etc. to the water boards in order to enable them to carry out emergency repairs so as to avoid a total collapse of the water systems. During the second phase, which took place in the post-conflict period, the ICRC continued supplying pipes, fittings, tools and chemicals, thus giving the water boards the capacity to rebuild their water systems. From mid-1997, the ICRC progressively reduced its activities so as to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibility to local authorities.

During the conflict – An example of emergency assistance was the drilling, during the spring and summer 1995 in Sarajevo, of 149 boreholes, which were then equipped with hand pumps. The two main reasons to implement this project were:

  • Lack of water, main sources supplying the town had been cut off
  • Security, the access to water at remaining distribution points was very hazardous due to the presence of snipers

Post-conflict period – This second phase focused more on the rehabilitation of pumping stations, water treatment units and water distribution network both in urban and rural areas. Projects focusing on leak detection and repair of electrical control devices were implemented in a more systematic way. The assistance provided in this so-called post-conflict period aimed to bridge the gap between emergency and development. One of the main objectives was to strengthen the water boards to enable them to meet the needs following the reconstruction of the country both on the social and economic level.

Stability after the peace agreement – Following the signature of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the prevailing stability allowed the ICRC to drastically increase its support in terms of material and advocacy to the water boards. The Jahornina pipeline coming from the Serbian side has been completely rehabilitated and the Bacevo well field massively supported with material. Those two water sources supplied more than 80% of Sarajevo town.

Northern Caucasus, Russian Federation 
Maintaining basic living conditions 

The ICRC was active in the domain of Water and Habitat in the northern Caucasus from 1995 to 1996, and then again from the end of 1999, when the second conflict in Chechnya caused a large influx of displaced persons into the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Despite major security constraints, the ICRC is still implementing large-scale projects i n the region.

Destructions in Chechnya have left many people without adequate shelter. Much of the population is living in crowded conditions that are inadequate given the harsh climate. In 2003, the ICRC rehabilitated three collective centres housing 238 families. It improved water supply, sanitation and hygiene facilities, roofing and joinery.

The ICRC has produced over 20’000m3 of chlorinated water each month since 1999. It supports the efforts of the local water board, GrozVodocanal, to repair the water supply network in Grozny by providing equipment and materials. For example, in 2003, the ICRC donated 4’000m of steel water-piping, an auto-crane and a mobile workshop.

There are 53 inpatient health structures in Chechnya, 40 of which are currently operational. Since 2002 the ICRC has been working to improve levels of medical care and accommodation for patients in referral hospitals. So far, it has renovated wards and operating theatres and enhanced the water supply in Urus-Martan, Shali and Argun hospitals, which have a total capacity of 945 beds. 

When displaced persons started arriving in Ingushetia at the end of 1999, 17 water trucks were used to deliver water for drinking and washing. Since then, water networks have been expanded in several towns and their environs, in a bid to move from water trucking towards more sustainable solutions. Between 2000 and 2003 the ICRC has built 13 shower blocks for 18’000 displaced persons living in camps and other settlements.

Improving living conditions in collective centres 

The ICRC has been present in Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia since 1992. Since 1995, Water and Habitat programmes have been conducted in the following fields, in cooperation with the relevant authorities.

Water and Habitat projects

  • Rehabilitation of health structures
  • Improvement of living conditions in places of detention
  • Technical support for implementation of the tuberculosis control programme in places of detention
  • Emergency water supply for internally displaced persons
  • Rehabilitation of urban water supplies
  • Improvement of living conditions in collective centres for internally displaced persons

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