• Written by Winona Azure
    24 May 2023

The Horn of Africa food and refugee crisis. Photo: CARE Nederlands.

With climate change on the rise, low-income communities around the world are being hit hardest by an increasing amount of natural and man-made hazards, which quickly become disasters. In spite of the hundreds of international emergency aid organisations, a recent study by the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) has shown a growing interest for the Dutch water sector to increase provisions to these hazard-stricken communities. With the help of this study, Akvo’s aim is to find ways in which we can contribute information-related water resources, work with like-minded partners, and take suggestions on how best to fulfill pressing needs in emergency aid. In particular, Akvo would like to explore the role of mobile apps in efficient and effective emergency response.

Gaps in emergency aid

The NWP study revealed that the greatest gap in water-related emergency aid services falls into three categories: WASH resources in urban or difficult terrain environments, additional staff presence (from 3 weeks up to 6 months), and specific WASH products and experts appropriate to a disaster region’s ad-hoc needs.

Weak areas of aid were also identified by existing emergency aid organisations. It turns out that Akvo could help with some of these: urban WASH solutions, Disaster Risk Reduction (mitigation strategies), Information Management (communications), and contributing to the knowledge of experts. Our goal could be to offer better tools and education through Akvopedia for NGOs that can send staff (surge support) into disaster regions.

Other Dutch organisations in emergency aid

Some Dutch water organisations are already showing involvement in the emergency aid WASH sector. WASTE and Practica are developing emergency sanitation kits and Practica is well-known for their quality manual drilling they offer in disaster areas. OXFAM/NOVIB has on-call water engineers to be dispatched in cases of emergencies, lobbies the UN to encourage swifter disaster response, as well as contributes emergency aid to more than 30 countries. CARE (parent of CARE Nederlands) is also a major contender in this field, as their emergency response and recovery programs reached 12 million people in 47 countries last year.

Raised toilets in Haiti provided by IFRC for 275,000 people per day with materials produced in Dominican Republic and constructed in Haiti. Photo: IFRC, 2010.

The stages and timeline of disaster emergency aid

In considering all of the ways in which Akvo might fit into the disaster aid framework, it helps to understand what kinds of actions and provisions go into a disaster plan. While there are many ways to classify the phases of a disaster, a popular one recognises them as having 4 distinct stages with different needs for aid at each stage.

The 4 stages of an emergency disaster scenario. Graphic: VECTOR, 2010.

A hazardous event is followed by:

1. Response: Putting preparedness plans into action. The actions taken to prevent deaths, illness, and further damage to a region and its people. Includes assessment, search and rescue, and provision of needed supplies (i.e. food, shelter, medicine, water, sanitation).
2. Recovery: The actions taken to restore a community back to normal conditions. Includes repairing, replacing, rebuilding.
3. Mitigation: The continuing effort to lesson the impact disasters have on people and property. (this stage is always active)
4. Preparedness: Plans and procedures designed to save lives and minimize damage that is the result of a natural or man-made hazard.

There are also different stages of a disaster with respect to the timeline following a hazardous event:

Simplified overview of different priorities and technology choices depending on the phase of emergency. Chart: SuSanA

Since Akvopedia is an educational / best practices tool, we can offer assistance during all of these times: i.e. how to build an emergency latrine, how to manage community toilets, and sustainable long-term sanitation structures.

Mitigation strategies for the long haul

The longer-term mitigation strategies, especially, offer a lot of potential for Akvo’s involvement, as this is an on-going area of education and betterment of a community that creates not only disaster-preparedness, but disaster resilience. While mitigation efforts seem to be underfunded, they are sorely needed to ensure a region’s stability:

“Only 4% of the estimated $10 billion in annual humanitarian assistance is devoted to prevention,” and yet “every dollar spent on risk reduction saves between $5 and $10 in economic losses from disasters.” – Eric Schwartz, The Boston Globe, 23rd March 2006

One mitigation-like project with CARE Nederlands that Akvo has already completed is: Resilient WASH systems in drought-prone areas. These tips and water technologies help make communities more prepared for drought in the event of low rainfall events and famine. Read more about the benefits of this project: Bringing the CARE Nederlands drought study into Akvopedia.

Contributing Information Management technologies

Akvo is also considering how FLOW, our mobile app, can help with Information Management, as there is a need for improved disaster assessment as well as communications within the aid workers’ network in trying to coordinate provisions and services in a timely manner. Plus, if disaster victims had FLOW already on their cell phones… remote regions could get more attention, more quickly with accurate ground data as part of their distress call. Ushahidi gives a great example of how to crowdsource information in this way. Read about Akvo’s review of emergency aid apps in our new blog.

Effective information management for disasters is a vital component of international disaster response and relief. Photo: IFRC.



1. Explorative study into the provision of emergency and rehabilitation assistance by the Dutch Water sector.  Jan Heeger & NWP.

2. Emergency response. Oxfam International.

3. Four phases of emergency management. ACCEM.

4. Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) Project. Interagency Working Group (IWG)

5. Emergency and reconstruction situations. SuSanA.

6. Information management in disasters. IFRC.