Delivery of Adequate WASH Services in Situations of Severe Population Overcrowding


Globally, we see numerous countries affected by human rights abuses and conflicts that have forced people to be displaced, whether as internally displaced persons or as refugees where they are displaced across borders into neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, many receiving countries are already struggling with limited resources and an influx of a large displaced population puts a strain on providing water, sanitation, and hygiene, (WASH) facilities and services. Given the complexity of the crisis that may have led to the displacement, it is unkown how long displaced populations will remain in their countries of refuge.

The current Rohingya crisis has now seen more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees flee ethnic cleansing in Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh. This is currently the largest ongoing refugee crisis and displacement in recent times. With the total Rohingya population in Bangladesh now close to 1 million, Bangladesh and the international community are struggling to meet the displaced populations’ escalating needs.

One of the biggest challenges is providing enough safe drinking water and finding solutions to emptying latrines, and correspondingly preventing the spread of diseases (especially water-borne diseases). With up to seven in every ten shallow wells estimated to be contaminated and inadequate latrines filling up with waste, water and sanitation engineers face huge challenges. There is also the increasing risk of water-borne and diahorreal diseases in the camps hosting the displaced population, especially with Bangladesh facing monsoon weather and increased rainfall in the autumn. The need for durable solutions is critical as those who remain in Bangladesh might face prolonged periods living in the camps as Bangladesh has also not acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol and has never allowed the Rohingya to claim asylum.

To address the needs of the sector through sustaining and expanding levels of service as well as reducing the risk, and mitigating the effects of water-borne diseases, any WASH strategy must consider a number of factors: the cost-effectiveness, direct impact, operation and maintenance, hygiene education, and synergy with other sectoral interventions in addition to the long-term benefits, when prioritising the interventions. The main objectives should revolve around the following:

  • Provide life-saving basic assistance in settlements, camps and host communities    
  • Improve conditions in and management of both existing and new settlements, including infrastructure and site planning
  • Promote safety, dignity and respect for the individual rights of Rohingya refugees