What are the primary differences of safe water access, good hygiene, and sanitation (WASH) in America as opposed to internationally? 

While parts of the U.S. such as some Native American reservations and coastal areas are facing a critical situation primarily due to a combination of poor water resource management/overexploitation and the impact of climate change, the U.S. is largely shielded from the challenges other countries face accessing safe water. Here in the U.S. and other wealthy industrialized countries we take for granted that any hospital or clinic is at the very least equipped with functioning restrooms, piped water, and adequate septic and sewerage systems. In many other countries, health care workers often don’t have access to water to practice frequent and thorough handwashing. They might have to bring their own water bottle from home or buy water in the street, and patients avoid going to the local health center because of the risk of contracting infections, or simply because they know they will not be able to use a toilet while there.

Many low-income countries lack the support structure, capital investment, sound regulatory frameworks, and private engagement needed to develop, operate, and maintain water and sanitation services for the whole population. 

How does Americares get clean water access after a natural disaster or during a conflict?

In the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster access to safe drinking water is critical. Much depends on the context of humanitarian response and the level of service coverage that was present before the crisis. In places like the U.S., something as simple as the distribution of bottled water is generally viable. In some extreme cases, the only realistic solution is to distribute water treatment items, such as powder packets or tabs that can quickly disinfect small volumes of raw water for human consumption.

At the international level, one quick and effective way to deliver safe drinking water to displaced populations that are congregated in camps or informal settlements is to truck in water. Another approach that is frequently adopted is to distribute WASH kits, which include buckets and chemicals that can be used at household level to treat water collected from unsafe sources.

More complex and longer-term interventions include setting up a treatment and distribution system for a whole community or rehabilitating the existing supply system.

Read the full article about WASH at Global Washington.