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Emergency WASH Network's Q & A With Albert Reichert

Provision of emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services is critical to restoring stability during humanitarian crises and in the aftermath of natural disasters. In this recent Q&A, Albert Reichert, a WASH Technical Advisor with USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, discusses current trends and challenges in the emergency WASH sector.

Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself and current position?

My name is Albert Reichert and I am one of BHA’s WASH Technical Advisors. I am an engineer by training, specializing in groundwater and surface water flows. I was based in East Africa for the past 10 years, and cover East and parts of Southern Africa for BHA WASH.

How did you get into working with humanitarian WASH programs specifically?

I did my thesis research in the Pakistan Punjab, and early in my career, I worked in the development and environmental sectors. I was working in South Asia at the time of the 2005 Northern Pakistan earthquake and pivoted to emergency response. While I appreciated the long-term engagement and sustainability aspects of development assistance, I found the relatively straightforward nature of humanitarian assistance - helping vulnerable people bridge disasters – to be particularly rewarding

Where do you see the humanitarian WASH field headed in the next 5-10 years?

In recent years, the bulk of humanitarian response has trended towards protracted conflict settings and recurrent natural disasters linked to climate change and I expect that trend to intensify in coming years.

In the short to medium term, insecure operating environments, associated logistics constraints, and improving technologies coupled with decreasing hardware costs will likely accelerate the trend towards solar powered WASH infrastructure.

The current focus on improving the evidence base of WASH interventions will continue to refine our understanding and shape programming. The continued professionalization of the humanitarian sector and the emphasis on increasing local capacity combined with security considerations will hopefully lead to increased technical capacity in disaster-affected countries.

I also expect the trend towards more integrated and holistic programming and a focus on software and behavior change to increase along with an emphasis on results-based programs to support countries’ journeys to self-reliance as donors increasingly need to be able to justify value-for-money to their citizens and sponsors.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges ahead for humanitarian WASH?

More and more, we work in complex emergency and conflict settings and we need to find solutions to providing WASH systems and services in dangerous, insecure areas where aid workers are increasingly targeted. In addition to operational constraints, the intense nature of insecure environments and the grind of protracted responses results in high staff turnover and the loss of institutional memory in precisely the contexts that demand continuity and call for experienced personnel.

Increasingly frequent and trans-national infectious disease outbreaks – cholera, Ebola, COVID – require different response methodologies from more traditional disaster responses, particularly in the face of seemingly growing suspicion and resistance from affected populations.

In all of these situations, we must try to balance a focus on the fundamentals – needs and evidenced based programming using tried and true WASH interventions tailored to the identified public health risks – with the effort to find new and innovative technologies and approaches to the myriad and evolving challenges we face.

Albert Reichert Mr. Reichert is a WASH Technical Advisor at USAID/BHA