Environmental Health

Environmental health risks can potentially expose individuals, communities, health care workers, waste handlers, and humanitarian actors to a variety of diseases. Crisis situations, such as those following war, conflict, or natural disaster, are often characterized by poor infrastructure, a lack of sanitation facilities, overcrowding, and inadequate access to safe drinking water; this leaves those affected by the crisis, as well as their host communities, especially vulnerable to diseases stemming from environmental health risks. For this reason, it is crucial to integrate the public health aspects of environmental healthcare, water and sanitation, and waste management into crisis response activities.

As the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster Lead, IOM takes environmental health issues into consideration in the design and implementation of its emergency response. IOM’s environmental health response to crisis situations aims to reduce environment-caused avoidable morbidity and mortality by restoring the local access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygienic conditions as quickly as possible and in a sustainable manner. Risk communication through health education and community awareness raising campaigns is also conducted to help increase safe hygiene practices and prevent disease outbreaks.

IOM’s environmental health response in crisis situations aims to:

  1. Reduce avoidable morbidity and mortality related to environmental health risks in the aftermath of a crisis;
  2. Ensure basic provision of water and sanitation services to displaced persons, migrants, mobile populations, host communities and other crisis-affected populations;
  3. Provide community-based health education and implement preventive measures to improve the hygiene and health of affected populations; and
  4. Provide sustainable and community-managed solutions related to water and sanitation services immediately after a crisis situation occurs.

Prevention and Response to Cholera Outbreaks

Cholera is transmitted through contaminated water. The disease causes rapid dehydration with life threatening consequences if left untreated. Cholera is of major concern in crisis situations, where safe water is scarce and sewage treatment is inadequate, potentially triggering the spread of cholera in contaminated water.

IOM’s response to cholera outbreak is focused on two areas:

  1. Detection and management of cholera cases
  2. Prevention of further spread of cholera through WASH interventions and vaccination campaigns for at risk populations in the perimeter of cholera affected areas

IOM is an experienced partner in setting up and running Cholera Treatment Centers during crisis situations. In addition to health interventions, IOM also works to improve hygienic and sanitary conditions in order to prevent further cholera transmission. Working with partners from the governments, UN network, and civil society, measures are taken to ensure clean water supplies are available. Construction of emergency and household latrines and rehabilitation of sanitation facilities are some actions taken to prevent cholera transmission. Large-scale awareness raising campaigns on health promotion and hygiene are also conducted to train outbreak affected community members on the prevention and treatment of cholera, as well as early detection, case management and referral.