When people are forced to flee their homes they often struggle to access water, putting their health and survival at risk. Just 24 hours without water, especially in hot countries, can be fatal.

In crisis situations, as well as ongoing emergencies, UNHCR works to ensure refugees can safely and easily obtain clean water. From trucking in chlorinated water to installing permanent water systems in camps, giving displaced people an adequate supply of water is one of our top priorities.

As well as ensuring that refugees can drink, cook and wash, access to clean water has many other life-changing benefits. Here are five of them.

Protection from disease

Water is the great preserver of life, but dirty water can take lives away with alarming efficiency. It provides the perfect haven for disease-bearing bacteria and viruses such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Water can also become a superhighway for the eggs of parasites and worms to move between people, finding new sources of food by stealing calories from a person’s gut, or nutrients from their bloodstream. This is particularly devastating for refugees already in poor health.

Providing refugees with water purification sachets, constructing wells and boreholes wherever possible, and installing treatment systems near water sources such as rivers are just some of ways UNHCR ensures that refugees have access to clean water.

Young boy collecting clean water | 5 ways clean water changes lives

A boy washes his hands using a "tip-it-tap" at Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district of Northern Uganda. ©UNHCR/Jiro Ose

Women and girls are less vulnerable

Women and girls often bear the burden of collecting water each day. It can sometimes take several hours to journey to the water source and carry back what the family needs to survive.

Long distances to water points, especially when undertaken early in the morning or in the evening, can put young girls and women at risk of sexual violence.

By installing wells, pumps and tap stands inside refugee camps, UNHCR is helping to reduce this risk.

Energy is conserved

Making sure clean water is closer to where refugees live also impacts nutrition and health. A woman will use around 17 per cent of the energy she gets from a standard food ration just by fetching 80 litres of water from a well and carrying it to her home 200 metres away. When women use less energy collecting water, they are less likely to become malnourished and sick.

A group of refugees collecting clean water from the taps | 5 ways clean water changes lives

Water treatment and distribution systems in camps bring safe water to refugees. © UNHCR/David Azia

Children – especially girls – can stay in school

Fetching water can cost a person’s future – in one refugee settlement in Uganda, 42% of children had their education interrupted due to water collection. When UNHCR installed wells and water pumps within the settlement, children had more time at school, improving their chances of a productive, fulfilling and independent future.

Families increase their food security and income

Women who spend their time collecting water often miss out on opportunities to earn an income for their families, grow food to eat or sell, or continue their education. All of these activities help lift refugee families out of poverty.

UNHCR’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs ensure millions of people forced from home can stay hydrated, healthy and safe. This work would not be possible with the generous support of donors. Thank you!

Give the gift of clean water

Small refugee child being washed in a small tub | 5 ways clean water changes lives

Young children are especially vulnerable to waterborne diseases. Access to clean water helps families stay hydrated, take care of their personal hygiene, and protect themselves from disease. © UNHCR/David Azia

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