The first global overview of basic water and sanitation indicators in refugee camps is presented (using data from 2003–2006) and compared with selected health and nutrition indicators. This demonstrates that average levels of water and sanitation provision are acceptable at camp level but many refugee operations are suffering from gaps that cross-cut these sectors; e.g. typically poor sanitation provision is corresponding with low per capita availability of water. These findings were confirmed at household level with two household surveys undertaken in African refugee camps; households reporting a case of diarrhoea within the previous 24 hours collect on average 26% less water than those not reporting any cases. In addition, typically higher levels of morbidity of one infectious agent are also reflected across other infectious agents; this is reinforced by comparing the relationship between morbidity and nutrition status from selected camps. The importance that hygiene, environmental conditions and local settings have on health (both of refugees and also local communities) is underlined. Interventions to improve indicators across the water, sanitation, health and nutrition sectors rely not only on increased and sustained resources but must entail an integrated approach to simultaneously tackle short-comings across all these vital sectors.

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