Editorial LinksRivers and RegionsIssuesDisactersPolicy

May / June 2003

Zambian Water Pictures
Water Resource Info Database

OPINION - Confusing Cause and Effect


Founder : Len Abrams
Water Policy International


    Return to the Disaster Page   



Disasters can befall any society and can effect any community.  Disasters include both natural and human induced crises such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and war.  Often natural disasters are exacerbated by human activities such as increased risks and consequences of floods due to poor land-use practices which are themselves the results of poverty, the pressure of increased population, misguided public policy and a host of other causes.  

Whenever disasters strike there is an immediate objective of minimizing the loss of life and damage to property as a direct consequence of the disaster.  This is followed the need to provide relief to the survivors of disasters to ensure that there is no secondary threat of disease and loss of life due to the breakdown of health services and basic infrastructure.  There then follows the process of reconstruction and development in order to re-establish the communities, to reduce dependency and to mitigate against the recurrence of the disaster.

Water plays a critical part in most disasters and relief efforts.  This is true in two main forms:- 1) the role of water in the cause of disasters, and 2) the role of water in relief and reconstruction.  

  1. The most obvious role of water in the cause of disasters is in the event of floods (too much water) and in droughts (too little water).  The less obvious facts relate to root causes of these disasters where human activity is often a factor which could be addressed through improved public policy or is the result of poor policy.  These indirect causes or exacerbating factors may be very varied and include water resources management policies, agricultural policy, population development and settlement policies, environmental protection policy (or the lack thereof), industrial and economic development policies etc..  The possible implications of policy in the cause of disasters and specific mitigation measures need to be considered during the process of policy formulation. 

  2. Most large scale disasters result in the disruption of the provision of basic services.  It is critical to re-establish the provision of water supplies and safe sanitation services, (as well as electricity, access to utensils, storage facilities etc.) as soon as possible.  The threat to the lives and well-being of victims due to disease caused by inadequate or contaminated services may be greater than the threat of the original disaster.  For these reasons, after the immediate rescue phase of disaster relief, relief measures often concentrate of the provision of emergency relief supplies and the restoration of basic infrastructure.  As a result many disaster relief organisations now have sections which specialise in the provision of emergency water supply and sanitation services.

An example of this is the International Committee of the Red Cross - see a very useful article entitled Water and habitat: introduction.  

Also see the page on Conflict

Links to relief agencies which are active in water supply and sanitation

The International Committee of the Red Cross

The ICRC's mission: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. It directs and coordinates the international relief activities conducted by the Movement in situations of conflict. It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles. Established in 1863, the ICRC is at the origin of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Red Cross Photo: Rubungo. Installing a new pipeline to bring water from the spring to the reservoir at the bottom of the valley. Ref.RW-N-00185-04 (See the Red Cross Photo Library)


RedR - Engineers for Disaster Relief [click to go to home page]

Red R

An international charity working to relieve suffering in disasters by selecting, training and providing competent and effective relief personnel to humanitarian aid agencies world-wide.

0042.jpg (55819 bytes)RedR's registers

The members of RedR's registers form a unique body of highly motivated and competent individuals who can be called upon at very short notice to strengthen the response of front-line humanitarian agencies. 

Since its establishment in 1979, RedR members have undertaken over 700 assignments with more than 80 agencies in over 70 countries.

RedR Member Peter Goulding on assignment in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, 1998

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international humanitarian aid organisation that provides emergency medical assistance to populations in danger in more than 80 countries. In countries where health structures are insufficient or even non-existant, MSF collaborates with authorities such as the Ministry of Health to provide assistance. MSF works in rehabilitation of hospitals and dispensaries, vaccination programmes and water and sanitation projects. MSF also works in remote health care centres, slum areas and provides training of local personnel. All this is done with the objective of rebuilding health structures to acceptable levels.

Photo: MSF Web site - Sudan, 1999 Report

UN High Commission for Refugees - UNHCR

UNHCR, the United Nations refugee organization, is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the world-wide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems.  UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. UNHCR strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, and to return home voluntarily.

UNHCR Photo: Rwandese refugees at Kibumba camp in Zaire,
waiting for water to be distributed from a tanker.


Water Web Management Ltd
1 Dome Hill, Caterham
Surrey CR3 6EE, UK



© 2000/1 Water Policy International Ltd -
Materials may be used with consent and acknowledgement.

| Home | Features | Water Education | Development | News | Documents | Rivers & Regions| Water Issues | Disasters | Water Policy | Editorial | Links |