Contingency Planning and Stockpiling of Equipment

Contingency planning involves preparing a programme to respond effectively and more rapidly in the event of an emergency or sudden deterioration in the humanitarian context. It includes understanding the risks and making decisions in the event of a disaster response about managing human and financial resources, identifying alternative sites for relocation and stockpiling appropriate equipment to protect, rehabilitate or deploy additional sanitation service solutions. 

Key Actions

  • Break down the contingency planning process into three simple questions: What is going to happen? What are we going to do about it? What can we do ahead of time to get prepared?
  • Do not spend too much time on a super-detailed contingency plan; maintain a pragmatic focus
  • Coordinate contingency plans and, especially, the stockpiling of consumables and equipment with WASH cluster partners as well as, ideally, with local public water and sanitation service providers
  • Ensure that everyone in the organisation is aware of the contingency plan, i.e. everyone, including partners, knows what is expected of them in case (part of) the plan is activated
  • Keep the contingency plan updated based on information obtained through Inclusive Planning and Participation and Monitoring.


Time spent on contingency planning equals time saved when a disaster strikes. Therefore, it is good practice to always have a (simple) contingency plan in place.

Due to the unpredictability of many emergencies, a key aspect of managing an emergency sanitation programme is the ability to undertake contingency planning for unforeseen events. In any emergency, it is difficult to plan for everything and impossible to predict exactly what will happen during the response phase. Furthermore, good sanitation programmes are modified based on Feedback from the Users, as well as Monitoring which can lead to unexpected changes in programme design and activities, making contingency planning more difficult (but programme outcomes better). Therefore, good contingency plans consider different possible scenarios and are regularly updated and tested to maintain relevance.


Developing a contingency plan involves an organisation making various decisions before an emergency occurs. These decisions can be wide-ranging including how to manage human and financial resources, how best to coordinate internally and with partners and what communications procedures to put in place.

It is unnecessary to make detailed contingency plans but it is good practice to analyse the risks, consider what assumptions have been made during the sanitation programme design and what is likely to happen if these assumptions prove to be wrong. It is also important to consider a possible deterioration in the scenarios, such as an additional influx of large numbers of refugees, an outbreak of cholera or an increased security threat.

The contingency planning process can be broken down into three simple questions: What is going to happen? What are we going to do about it? What can we do ahead of time to get prepared?

Contingency plans may additionally include:

Training and identified need for additional expertise: this includes the appropriate Training of Staff and Volunteers including in contingency procedures if appropriate. A change in context might require the need for additional sanitation expertise. See Support Networks and Stand-By Arrangements for guidance on how this support can be accessed.

Stockpiling of equipment and consumables: this includes the local storage of small stocks of equipment in case of an emergency. The amount of equipment and supplies to be stored depends on several factors such as the type of disaster that might occur, the likelihood that they will occur, the number of people and size of the area likely to be involved, the road and communication systems, the commercial availability of materials and supplies needed, the financial resources and safe storing capacities. It is therefore impossible to give a definitive list of the supplies and equipment required.

Consumables that might be useful to stockpile include soap, chlorine for disinfection and lime for emergency stabilisation of faecal sludge. Personal Protective Equipment for staff such as gloves, dispensable masks, boots and overalls are essential. In some contexts, it is beneficial to store fuel for transport.

If a sudden increase in the need for latrines is expected (for example due to a sudden influx of new refugees) it can be helpful to stock appropriate equipment for rapid implementation such as plastic latrine slabs or moulds for local concrete slab manufacture, latrine digging kits and handwashing stand kits. It is advisable to stock essential equipment that is difficult to procure at the local market, such as good quality pit desludging pumps and good quality liners. If it is expected that significant volumes of faecal sludge will need to be stored whilst emergency treatment is set up, stock flexible, large storage tanks such as those available from Oxfam.

Sites: This includes the identification of possible sites for the relocation of activities. See also Site Planning.

Author(s) (1)
Marij Zwart
Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Dorothee Spuhler
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)

Still have questions?

You could not find the information you were looking for? Please contact our helpdesk team of experts for direct and individual support.