In emergency situations, time pressure constitutes one of the most acute problems. Emergency preparedness and contingency planning allow to deal with anticipated problems before the onset of a crisis. The aim of emergency WASH preparedness is to build resilience, to achieve a practical level of preparation and to strengthen the coping capacity of local WASH actors. This helps to reduce vulnerability and to guarantee a prompt and suitable response to an emergency, and consequently to avoid preventable loss of life and reduce suffering. Emergency preparedness is initiated long before the actual response and involves elements such as risk analysis, response planning, preparedness actions and scenario-based contingency planning. The following factsheet provides information on the components of emergency preparedness and contingency planning and provides guidance regarding the different frameworks used depending on the nature of the crisis (refugee situation vs. non-refugee situation).
The aim of emergency preparedness is to optimise the speed and volume of humanitarian assistance and to ensure that “the strategic direction and required building blocks for an eventual response are in place” (UNHCR 2015a). Building on activities such as context analysis, planning, gap identification, partnership development and resource pre-positioning, emergency preparedness reduces or eliminates the negative impact of sudden shocks or pressures, including access to adequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services. This lowers the occurence of WASH-related diseases during and following an emergency (UNHCR 2015a and UNHCR 2015b).
Depending on the nature of the humanitarian crisis (refugee situation vs. non-refugee or internal displacement situation), two different frameworks are used to guide emergency preparedness. They both adopt a forward-looking, “no regret” approach and include the same components (as described below), but are designed for use by different stakeholders:
- the Preparedness Package for Refugee Emergencies (PPRE) is used in refugee situations. Since response to refugee crises always lies under the responsibility of UNHCR (see Humanitarian Aid Coordination for WASH factsheet), this framework is designed for the use of UNHCR offices, in partnership with host governments, UN and NGO partners (UNHCR 2015c).
- the Emergency Response Preparedness Framework (ERP) of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is used in situations that involve Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Such situations require concerted actions by different agencies and organisations, coordinated by IASC (see Humanitarian Aid Coordination for WASH factsheet). The ERP framework supports inter-agency country teams, UN Resident Coordinators and Humanitarian Coordinators in collectively preparing a well-orchestrated humanitarian response (UNHCR 2015a, UNHCR 2015c).
Components of Emergency Preparedness
Emergency preparedness builds on four components, that are to be implemented in a practical, flexible and participatory approach (EUROPEAN COMMISSION 2014):
Minimum Preparedness Actions (MPA)
Minimum Preparedness Actions are continuously implemented by response teams with the goal to create a minimum level of emergency preparedness, regardless if a specific emergency risk or scenario has been identified or not. Although not usually very resource intensive, MPAs have the capacity to prevent offices from being overwhelmed once contingency plans and emergency activities need to be rapidly undertaken. Their implementation is key to the quality of the humanitarian intervention and allows for a flexible response to different types of emergencies. Possible MPAs include risk analysis (see below), information management (e.g. maintenance of contact lists and local asylum policies), overseeing current response capacities (e.g. understanding possible refugee settlement options), preparation of the operational capacity to deliver critical assistance and protection (e.g. updating records of relief items), administration (e.g. establishment of coordination and management arrangements) etc. (UNHCR 2015c, UNHCR 2015d). Relevant MPA checklists can be downloaded from UNHCR’s Emergency Handbook: checklists for refugee situations, checklists for IDP situations.
Risk Analysis and Monitoring
As part of the MPAs, a continuous risk analysis and monitoring are performed to assess, monitor and rank (by impact and likelihood) risks that could potentially lead to a humanitarian crisis. The goal is to obtain a shared understanding of possible risk factors and to trigger Advanced Preparedness Actions (APAs) where necessary. Coordination with the concerned governments and other humanitarian actors should be sought to agree on the seriousness of the risks and the APAs to be taken (UNHCR 2015f).
Advanced Preparedness Actions (APA)
Advanced Preparedness Actions are initiated when emergency risks are rated "medium" or higher. The goal of APAs is to increase the readiness for emergency response and to initiate and lead contingency planning.
The respective activities are risk-specific and include actions such as context and gap analysis, WASH capacity building, identification of resource requirements, pre-placement of WASH emergency stocks (e.g. hygiene kits, water bottles, portable purification units, water tanks, latrine slabs) etc. APA’s are always implemented in conjunction with contingency plans (UNHCR 2015g, UNHCR 2015h). Relevant APA checklists can be downloaded from UNHCR’s Emergency Handbook: checklists for refugee situations, checklists for IDP situations.
Contingency Planning (CP)
Contingency plans are developed and repeatedly reviewed as part of the APA when risks are “medium” (CP to be considered) or high (CP mandatory). Contingency planning is defined as “a process, in anticipation of potential crises, of developing strategies, arrangements and procedures to address the humanitarian needs of those adversely affected by crises" (CHOULARTON 2007 cited in UNHCR 2015b). The goal of contingency planning is to agree on a scenario, response strategy for the first 2-4 weeks, coordination arrangements and resource needs between all partners (UNHCR 2015b, UNHCR 2015i). Contingency plans should address the following topics (UNHCR 2015b, 2015i):
- Situation and risk analysis (including gender analysis)
- Context and scenario-specific response strategy
- Operational delivery
- Coordination and management arrangements
- Operational support arrangements
- Preparedness gaps and actions
- Funding requirements
The following key principles should be considered when preparing the contingency plan (UNHCR 2015b, UNHCR 2015i):
- Contingency planning must be realistic, simple and easy to carry out by all staff and not be confined to specialists
- The contingency plan needs to be flexible and specific rather than broad
- Contingency plans should use resources efficiently to meet the humanitarian needs
- Importance should be given to the process, rather than only the written document
- A successful plan should include detailed information (e.g. detailed descriptions of water systems, geographical areas, aquifers, construction techniques, piping materials, generators and required fuel etc. of water supply systems). The plan can even go as far to include market studies for hygiene promotion items or material for Operation and Maintenance such as chemicals and spare parts.
Should the emergency indeed occur, the contingency plan can be immediately transformed into a Preliminary Response Plan or a Refugee Response Plan, which can also serve as funding appeal (UNHCR 2015b and UNHCR 2015i).
In refugee situations, the response plans must cover aspects such as registration, freedom of movement, strategies for maintaining family unity etc. (see full list of items to be covered in a contingency plan for refugee situations here). Camps should always be considered an option of last resort and alternatives should be explored as far as possible. Where camps constitute the only feasible option, camp locations need to be identified based on field assessments and agreed upon with the host government as part of the response strategy (UNHCR 2015e).
In ‘mixed' situations that involve both IDPs and refugees, a contingency plan for refugee influx should be prepared as a separate document and should be streamlined into the ERP contingency plan as far as possible (UNHCR 2015e).
Considerations for Camps/Prolonged Encampments:
Where camps put extra stress on local water resources, specific attention should be directed to the link between rainfall and local aquifers. Proper risk analysis of floods and drought must be carried out through:
- Rainfall data collection and analysis
- Monitoring of groundwater fluctuation
- Mapping of the groundwater resources available for drilling
In parallel, mitigation measures should be taken to reduce the risk of over pumping and to reduce the water need by promoting alternatives to high water demand livelihood activities, especially the ones associated with sanitation and hygiene promotion interventions (EUROPEAN COMMISION 2014).
Considerations for Urban Settings:
When planning for such complex contexts as urban settings, it can be difficult to separate WASH from other sectors: environmental factors, property issues, livelihoods as well as ethnic, gender and economic inequalities are all interconnected. Additionally, emergency preparedness and contingency planning for cities must take into account that vulnerable people may be difficult to identify and access in urban areas, since they may be distributed over different locations and may fall through the loser social fabric often seen in urban areas. It must also be considered, that the multitude of present local authorities in urban areas may mean that humanitarian actors must act as “enablers” rather than as assistance providers. Finally, emergency preparedness and contingency planning for cities also requires clarifying (and strengthening) the interaction with the private sector, as the private sector has a significant role to play, e.g. for restoring existing water supply systems (BRYANT AND CAMPBELL 2014). Planning for complex systems like urban settings require greater skill levels, which means that specialists should be involved.
Considerations for Rural Settings:
When planning for response in rural settings, support to both the displaced and the host community must be considered. Since infrastructure is often weak in rural areas, it is important to ensure immediate provision of safe drinking water in sufficient amounts as well as safe disposal of sewage and solid waste. Community participation for the repair and restoration of existing infrastructure should be integrated in the contingency plan.
In 2014, REDR conducted a pilot course for WASH in emergencies and addressed gender issues. The key lessons, key messages, and experiences were compiled. Facilitators and participants found that in urban settings it was particularly hard to separate WASH from any other sector and issues around gender were very interconnected with land tenancy issues, environmental factors, livelihoods, individual vulnerabilities, ethnic factors and economic inequality. They also found that there were large cross-cutting areas for gender issues when considering WASH aspects, such as social and institutional aspects of hygiene promotion, water, sanitation, drainage and vector control, amongst other sectors.BRYANT, J. CAMPBELL, L. (2014): Urban WASH in Emergencies. London: ALNAP URL [Accessed: 08.12.2016]
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Meeting the challenge of rapidly increasing humanitarian needs in WASH. DG ECHO Thematic Policy No.2
This thematic policy document provides information on meeting the challenges of rapidly increasing humanitarian needs. It provides information on basic principles of humanitarian response, emergency response and preparedness and response in acute, post-acute, protracted, and chronic crises, key determinants for interactions, guidance on coordination, advocacy, decision trees, and technical guidelines. It provides various insights on operations and maintenance planning for humanitarian crisis needs. The EC humanitarian WASH assistance follows the following objectives: 1) To ensure timely and dignified access to sufficient and safe WASH services for populations threatened by on-going, imminent or future humanitarian crises, and to increase their resilience to withstand water stress and shocks. 2) To implement measures to prevent the spread of WASH related diseases in populations threatened by on-going, imminent or future humanitarian crises. 3) To enhance the impact, relevance, efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of WASH assistance by strengthening the capacities of the humanitarian aid system, including its coordination mechanism.EUROPEAN COMMISSION (2014): Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Meeting the challenge of rapidly increasing humanitarian needs in WASH. DG ECHO Thematic Policy No.2. Brussels: European Commission URL [Accessed: 31.10.2016]
Inter-Agency Contingency Planning Guidelines for Humanitarian Assistance. Inter-Agency Standing Committee Sub-Working Group on Preparedness and Contingency Planning
The Inter-Agency Contingency Planning Guidelines aim to assist Humanitarian Country Teams in preparing to respond to potential emergencies with appropriate humanitarian assistance and protection. These guidelines provide recommendations on how to establish and implement an inter-agency contingency planning process, how to develop integrated plans and monitor ongoing preparedness actions.IASC (2007): Inter-Agency Contingency Planning Guidelines for Humanitarian Assistance. Inter-Agency Standing Committee Sub-Working Group on Preparedness and Contingency Planning. Geneva: Inter-Agency Standing Committee URL [Accessed: 25.11.2016]
These guidelines aim to ensure that Red Cross Red Crescent disaster response is consistent and of a high quality. This document provides an overview of the key elements of contingency planning. This guide is aimed at assisting National Society and IFRC staff responsible for developing contingency plans at the local, national, regional or global levels. It is essential to develop contingency plans in consultation and cooperation with those who will have to implement or approve them. This document provides guidelines, not strict rules; planning priorities will differ according to the context and scope of any given situation.IFRC (2007): Contingency Planning Guide. Geneva: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies URL [Accessed: 17.01.2017]
The PPRE is the product of a collaboration initiative among many UNHCR staff worldwide, led by the Emergency Capacity Management Service (ECMS), Division of Emergency, Security and Supply (DESS). The Preparedness Package for Refugee Emergencies (PPRE) sets the new standard for preparing for refugee emergencies, combining non-risk-specific preparedness action lists with scenario based contingency response planning. It is meant for UNHCR offices as well as UN, NGO and other partners involved in preparing for refugee influxes.UNHCR (2014): Preparedness Package for Refugee Emergencies. A Reference Guide to Risk Analysis, Preparedness, and Contingency Planning. (= First Edition ). Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees URL [Accessed: 17.01.2017]
Climate Insurance and water-related Disaster Risk Management – unlikely Partners in Promoting Development?
GWP's newest Perspectives Paper is called "Climate insurance and water-related disaster risk management – Unlikely partners in promoting development?" It is a contribution to the discussion on insurance, risk transfer and sharing mechanisms in offsetting economic impacts around extreme events.(2018): Climate Insurance and water-related Disaster Risk Management – unlikely Partners in Promoting Development?. Global Water Partnership (GWP) URL PDF
The overall objective of this document is to outline a timely WASH Cluster response – providing a mechanism for effectively reducing the transmission of WASH related diseases and exposures to disease bearing vectors through the provision of safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene promotion to an affected population – in the event of a future emergency in Fiji. This contingency plan has been developed to prepare the WASH Cluster for a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of people affected, taking into account lessons learnt and needs identified from the flood response of 2012. In order to mitigate the severe impacts of flooding, this Flood Contingency Plan has been prepared to quickly identify and respond to emerging humanitarian needs in the WASH sector as a result of the foreseeable flooding incidence. Two possible scenarios have been identified: the anticipated scenario (most likely) and the worst case scenario (least likely).FIJI NATIONAL WASH CLUSTER (2014): Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Contingency Plan 2014-2015. Fiji: Fiji National WASH Cluster URL [Accessed: 28.11.2016]
This WASH Cluster Contingency Plan has been developed based upon the Multi Hazard Scenario that affects Nepal. Nepal is at high risk of a multitude of natural hazards such as floods, landslides, earthquakes, fires, cyclonic winds, hailstorms, and drought which can lead to famines and epidemic outbreaks in their aftermath (IASC, 2013). In order for the WASH Cluster to work effectively and efficiently to support the Government of Nepal to address any disasters that occur in Nepal, this WASH Cluster Contingency Plan has been developed from series of consultation and joint work of the cluster members.WASH CLUSTER NEPAL (2013): WASH Cluster Contingency Plan. Contingency Plan. Kathmandu: Nepal WASH Cluster URL [Accessed: 28.11.2016]