Human Resources

All sanitation interventions require human resources (HR) and corresponding staff Capacity to deliver the programme effectively. Emergency responses recruit from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds. Therefore hiring, training, strengthening capacity, supporting and supervising are key responsibilities of a sanitation project or programme. 

Key Actions

    • Include questions about locally available human resources and skills (such as capacity in planning, constructing, operating, maintaining and monitoring sanitation facilities) in your initial assessment while Collecting Data

    • Identify the specific skill sets needed in your sanitation response. This may include technical skills (e.g. engineering expertise and experience of key sanitation technologies), management, coordination and communication skills, as well as core humanitarian behavioural competencies

    • Recruit as locally as possible and continuously strengthen the capacity of staff to respond to emergencies; this also helps to increase the Resilience of national staff and communities to future crises

    • Aim for a balanced and diverse team (e.g. in terms of gender, disability, background) including in management positions

    • Ensure that staff and volunteers know what is expected of them and are provided with up-to-date job descriptions and codes of conduct. New staff should also receive briefings and inductions

    • Support the safety and well-being of emergency staff, addressing the increased risks present in an emergency environment

    • Comply with local employment regulations, including social benefits such as health insurance, pension payments or severance payments. If local employment regulations do not meet the minimum standards expected, use internationally agreed regulations as a guide

    • Ask for remote assistance and advice from headquarters or additional capacity from the surge mechanisms of bigger organisations, if needed


An effective sanitation programme requires effective management and adequate staff capacity to deliver it. The humanitarian sector’s HR needs have grown exponentially. It can be difficult to find people with the necessary skill sets, expertise, adapted behavioural competencies and will to work in challenging (and sometimes remote or insecure) conditions.

Sanitation interventions can be implemented by a variety of people and organisations/institutions such as government departments, community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations or local service providers and utilities. Interventions can be carried out by paid national or international staff, volunteers, community organisations or a mixture of any of these.


In an emergency response, many people need to be mobilised or recruited. HR management is vital to ensure that the responding organisation/institution has sufficient capacity to respond. In larger emergencies, there must be at least one dedicated HR manager in the team; there may be a need to appoint an HR manager specifically for the emergency. In a very large emergency, additional HR support staff will also be required.

Depending on the needs of the affected population and the context and scale of the humanitarian sanitation response, the HR requirements for sanitation interventions may include:

    • Project managers: professionals who are responsible for planning, designing and implementing sanitation programmes. They should ideally have a sanitation and hygiene background (WASH is often considered as a single sector, hence in many cases project managers are responsible for WASH overall, not just sanitation)

    • Engineers: engineers with relevant expertise and experience are needed to design and construct sanitation facilities such as latrines and manage the emptying, transport, treatment and reuse or safe disposal technologies for faecal sludge as well as handwashing stations and waste disposal systems

    • Community mobilisers: are individuals who work closely with affected communities in assessment, planning and decision-making to raise awareness about the importance of sanitation and hygiene and to encourage people to adopt hygiene practices. Dedicated HR for Hygiene Promotion is always recommended to ensure that time is fully allocated to work supportively and interactively with communities. Community mobilisers should have good local knowledge, communicate in the local language or even share the same background as the affected community. They could also include staff for monitoring

    • Logistics and operations staff: are individuals responsible for procuring and distributing sanitation supplies and equipment, managing sanitation facilities and coordinating transportation. It is helpful if logistics and operation staff have good local knowledge or even share the same background as the affected community

    • Security staff: in some contexts, security staff may be needed to ensure the safety of personnel working in areas affected by conflict or instability

    • Financial and administrative staff: are individuals who work in supporting roles in an organisation; they are responsible for ensuring that the organisation’s finances are managed effectively and administrative functions are carried out efficiently. They could also include staff for monitoring

It is important to ensure that all personnel involved in a humanitarian sanitation response are properly trained and equipped to work in challenging and sometimes hazardous environments. On-going support for staff and volunteers must be provided and they must be aware of who will directly manage them.

Sanitation often requires a specific skill set that is not routinely gained through traditional training. Competency frameworks should be developed to inform discussions with staff, helping to identify strengths, weaknesses and further training and support strategies. As soon as possible, a training plan for all staff and volunteers should be established. Organisations have a duty of care for their workers and must take measures to ensure their safety, manage stress, health and safety and personal security. At the same time, staff and volunteers must take responsibility for their own security and well-being and adhere to organisational guidelines and policies.

Short staff deployments often lead to high staff turnover, undermining continuity and programme quality. They can result in a reduced sense of personal responsibility for the work. High demands due to challenging local conditions may also lead to reduced staff performance. Regardless of whether the deployments are short or long, staff should feel supported; whenever funding allows, turnover can be reduced if deployments are planned strategically and staff trained and motivated.

If the programme strategy is to work with community volunteers, the affected community should be involved in selecting them according to agreed, specific criteria. Existing outreach systems can be identified – they can also be mobilised more quickly. It is critical, however, that these outreach systems are respected and accepted by the community. Ideally, community-based volunteers would be:

    • From the same broad cultural background and ethnicity as the community with whom they work

    • Motivated to work to improve the community and able to commit sufficient time for activities

    • Respected and trusted within the community and a positive role model

    • Have strong social and verbal communication skills and strong participatory facilitation skills

    • Have an open and positive attitude to diversity and inclusion

    • Have active listening skills, empathy and the confidence to work with groups and communities

Author(s) (1)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Thorsten Reckerzügl
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Shirish Singh
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education

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