MSF: Water and Health

For MSF, access to water means access to safe water that can be used to fulfill a populations' water, hygiene and sanitation needs. MSF staff are regularly providing water in emergencies for populations displaced by insecurity and wars or natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in Turkey, hurricanes in Nicaragua and the floods in Mozambique.

Our emergency services are often the only source of safe water for populations.

In many of these disasters, it not just our aim to provide water, sanitation and hygiene. We are trying to prevent the onset of disease. MSF is regularly confronted with the health impacts of poor water quality that often brings water-borne diseases into a population. Diseases such as cholera can quickly become an emergency and the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene is essential to controlling the disease.

More disturbing is the deliberate and organized prevention of access to water.

In Kosovo, hostile security forces used rubbish, equipment, chemicals, bodies of animals and human beings to block many wells in farms and villages. Objects can be easily enough removed from a well but the contamination from oils, chemicals and other pollutants is more complex for field teams to deal with.

In such situations and with our resource limits, re-opening access to the water source may be extremely difficult or even not possible. The water remains but, in terms of health, there is no real access.

MSF cleaned many wells and water sources in Kosovo but we also followed this up with health and hygiene evaluations in the affected communities.

MSF believes that access to health is a human right. In our emergency and longer-term interventions we regularly reinforce access to health by providing access to water, sanitation and hygiene. MSF supports the theme of Water and Health and welcome the WHO initiative to bring water and health into the domain of human rights.

Murray Biedler is the Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Coordinator for the Belgian office of MSF.