What we do

The world has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. However, in 2015 more than 600 million people worldwide will still lack access to safe water. More worrisome, the goal of reducing by half the number of people without basic sanitation will fall significantly short. Currently, an estimated 2.5 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.

The problems caused by a lack of access to safe water and sanitation are made much worse during disasters and crises, and are increasingly influenced by climate change, rapid unplanned urbanisation, increasing epidemics and pandemics, population movement and conflict. Lack of safe water and sanitation is the most common and preventable underlying cause of disease and death in the world today.


Over the last 15 years, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has established and consolidated an agenda to support its vision, policy, capacity and advocacy for the promotion of water, sanitation and hygiene activities. This agenda addresses two principal global problems.

Acute water and sanitation challenges, which mainly concern crises and disasters, and the provision of basic needs to save lives, contain or reduce health threats and restore dignity. We take the lead not only in deploying global rapid response interventions, but also in developing further the crucial response capacity at local, national, regional and global levels.

Chronic water and sanitation challenges, which are mostly related to establishing large-scale, longer-term sustainable water and sanitation programmes. Key to this approach has been the establishment of the Global Water and Sanitation Initiative 2005-2015 (GWSI), which promotes a common integrated approach for all water and sanitation projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.


The IFRC has well-established water and sanitation disaster response mechanisms and capacity, and is recognized as a leader in this field. Every year, we have supplied an average of 1.8 million people with water, and sanitation and hygiene promotion activities in emergencies. Since the launch of the GWSI in 2005, we have provided more than 5 million people with sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities. We expect to treble this number to reach a total of 15 million people by 2015, a significant contribution to the MDGs.

Related documents

Related links

Where we stand on the problems of the world's water, sanitation and hygiene

As we enter this 12th year of the new millennium, we are struck by a stark reality: more than ...