Action Against Hunger’s humanitarian action on WASH in Ukraine

6 Dec 2022 by The Water Diplomat

Some 16 million people in Ukraine are in need of water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. These include internally displaced people as well as those who remain in conflict-affected communities. Millions were already in need of WASH support prior to February 2022. Since February and the escalation of the conflict, needs have skyrocketed with forced displacement and conflict-related damages to critical WASH infrastructure.

ACF is predominantly focused in Ukraine’s eastern Oblasts where the needs are judged to be the highest, but also to ensure that resources are not stretched too thin given Ukraine’s significant land mass as the second-largest European country after Russia (approximately 600,000 square kilometres).

Although a lot of attention was paid to transit shelters for internally displaced persons in the initial phases, support has increasingly focused on the state of the existing water supply infrastructure managed by the Vodokanals.

The humanitarian WASH cluster system, which is led by UNICEF, is working in Ukraine and coordinating the response to ensure ACF and other WASH actors have the highest impact. It has been very active in pulling in as many local and international actors as possible. Within about the initial weeks of the conflict, ACF took the lead to carry out an initial emergency assessment which supported the humanitarian community to clearly identify the core WASH activities required.

These activities include distributing hygiene kits to people fleeing conflict within Ukraine or across borders, including soap, toothbrushes, shampoo, period products, and other essential supplies. ACF are still providing hygiene kits to people in transit, people living in shelters, and communities affected by conflict, while also supporting collective shelters with repairs to water, toilet and bathroom facilities. To do this work efficiently, many INGOs, including ACF, are partnering with local humanitarian actors whose staff, local knowledge, and logistic capacity are typically strong.

Critically, ACF are also working with local actors for the repair of centralized water and sanitation networks. In addition, ACF are also pre-positioning contingency emergency water supply stock for rapid response in areas with acute water needs. The main water entities ACF and the humanitarian community are dealing with are the Vodokanals: these are the primary authorities (a mix of public-private partnerships) delivering water services across Ukraine. They vary quite significantly from one part of Ukraine to the next in terms of their supply area and the size of their existing staff.

Early on, ACF was able to start working with Vodokanals in key urban areas: Kharkiv and Pokrovsk in the East, Sumy in the North, and Zaporizhzhia in the Southeast. Currently, large scale procurements are being undertaken of network materials: pipes, valves, etc. which will be supplied to pre-identified projects which have been related to damage from shelling and other infrastructure damage caused by the hostilities in frontline areas.

ACF also managed to secure significant stocks of emergency preparedness items such as water treatment stations, motor pumps, bladder tanks, tap stands– and this material was also distributed via Vodokanals to support conflict-affected communities. Specifically, such emergency water supply items allowed ACF to support Vodokanals to ensure water access in areas closer to frontlines, even when the hostilities are too intense to allow rehabilitation work. Moreover, as the conflict has evolved and vast swathes of new areas needing humanitarian support have opened up, supplying such vital stocks of emergency water supply equipment has become a priority WASH activity.  Such rapid shifts in response strategies are not always easy as agreements with donors are based on six- to twelve-month time horizons.

There are increasing power shortages in the country, and ACF are extremely concerned about the impact this will have on water supply systems in the coming months. The needs are apparent everywhere, but the sheer scale of the country and the distances between centres of need has made it difficult to fully assess, coordinate and make final choices on where WASH activities need to take place. As such, one crosscutting challenge is getting a precise and complete assessments of local situations in order to judge which areas have the greatest needs. Nevertheless, after the initial rapid scale up of its emergency activities, ACF teams are applying increasingly methodical approaches regarding how and where to provide support, as well as thinking about efficiency considerations in relation to logistical challenges.

For the humanitarian WASH sector, some key factors are at stake over the coming months:

  • Growing reports about targeting of civilian water infrastructure and related violations of IHL and Human Right Laws;
  • Public service provision is under severe pressure, winter will be harsh, and there are significant concerns for the wellbeing of the entire population in terms of WASH needs;
  • The needs far outweigh the response capacity of humanitarian organisations.

Knowing that they cannot fulfil all the needs, humanitarian organisations including ACF will continue to do their utmost to ensure the WASH needs of the poorest and most vulnerable conflict-affected populations.