Integrating environmental sustainability into the water and sanitation sector: lessons from tsunami disaster response

During the recovery phase following a disaster, humanitarian aid organizations are uniquely positioned to implement water and sanitation activities that go beyond disaster recovery to provide beneficiaries with systems that are more environmentally sustainable than pre-disaster conditions. Oftentimes, however, the pressure to rapidly restore post-disaster water and sanitation systems leads to a lack of coordinated planning and missed opportunities to implement innovative technologies that can make communities more resilient to future disasters and reduce long-term ecosystem impacts. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, several humanitarian aid agencies recognized the importance of integrating environmental sustainability concepts into their water and sanitation relief operations. This paper examines methods and strategies for addressing environmental stewardship within the humanitarian aid water and sanitation sector through global partnerships with environmental organizations, with case studies from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. Lessons learned from application of environmental stewardship approaches in this disaster response can be used to remodel and improve future humanitarian aid relief operations.