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WASH and Cash and Voucher Assistance

The content on this webpage has been developed with the Global WASH Cluster.

Introduction to the WASH sector

Water and sanitation, along with food and shelter, are the important human needs especially in an emergency.

At times of crisis most vulnerable people are susceptible to illness and death from diseases that are often caused by lack of sanitation, inadequate safe water and poor hygiene. Without access to basic water and sanitation services, and without the practice of good hygiene, the risk of diarrhoea, cholera and other disease outbreaks is high.

Due to their interdependent nature, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) are grouped together to represent one sector. While each is a separate field of work, each is dependent on the presence of the other.

Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam
A group of women with their wheelbarrows heading to the water point in  Eilmidgan Village where Oxfam built a water desalination plant to collect water. Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Affordable and sustainable access to WASH is a key for public health. WASH actions aim to facilitate:

  • Access (availability and distance) to safe water (according to agreed standards),
  • Access to and use of basic toilets and ways to separate human waste from contact with people
  • The promotion of good hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap.

How is Cash and Voucher Assistance used in the WASH sector?

In recent years the use of conditional Cash and Voucher Assistance to achieve WASH outcomes has steadily grown. CVA has been used to increase access to drinking water through water vendors or small shops, or through the use of kits for treating and storing water. Cash for work has been used for the repair and recovery of the piped water network. In some cases, Multipurpose Cash Transfers as part of a response aimed to fulfil basic needs including water and hygiene items.

Even though in the past CVA and market-based approaches have been applied in the WASH sector, today WASH agencies are increasingly equipped in using CVA to meet sectoral outcomes and in designing programmes through local markets.

It is clear that CVA cannot replace all traditional WASH activities, (please see GWC position paper for more details), but in some cases, CVA can be used to complement in-kind activities. In others, CVA activities in the WASH sector should be complemented with sensitization and hygiene promotion. Complementary programming, using different modalities or/and activities can be an appropriate approach to meeting identified needs through CVA while technical assistance and messaging can improve their effectiveness.

What are the main challenges to the scale up of quality CVA in the WASH Sector? 

To be the most relevant contextualized option, CVA can take place only after a market assessment and response analyses have been completed and not by default. The lack of documented evidence supporting the use of Market Based Programming (MBP) and on the effectiveness of Multipurpose Cash Transfers in delivering WASH outcomes need to be addressed. Moreover, CVA is not able (or designed) to substitute the `software` side of WASH programming, such as community mobilization, training in the use of WASH hardware, behaviour change communication and hygiene promotion. A combination of CVA and complementary activities are required to achieve WASH outcomes. The Cash and Market Technical Working Group of the Global WASH Cluster (capacity building, production of guidance, development of indicators and generating evidence) is working on addressing these gaps and challenges.