World Vision Water, Women, and Disability report highlights importance of leaving no one behind

A group of people wearing safety vests are on a tour of a community, they are smiling at the camera

Despite the challenges that beset Vanuatu in 2020, a global pandemic and a severe tropical cyclone, their work in WASH did not stop and in fact has played a critical role in Vanuatu's COVID-19 response for communities.


During this year, a new and very important report was launched from World Vision in Vanuatu. One of the first of its kind in the Pacific, the report highlights the importance of leaving no one behind in accessing water and sanitation and participating in community life.


Launched on 6 May, 2020 in Luganville, Santo, the Water, Women, and Disability Study report is part of World Vision Vanuatu’s five year Laetem Dak Kona (light up the dark corners) project in Vanuatu, supported by the Australian Government, through Water for Women.


The study, which reached 55,000 people, investigated access to and experience of water and sanitation, menstrual hygiene management and incontinence amongst people with disabilities, alongside those without disabilities, and in particular women, in Sanma and Torba provinces.


Nesther was one of the enumerators on the research project, a huge undertaking to reach and interview 55,000 people


To celebrate the launch of the report, a delegation visited South Santo and toured the region to understand the impact of Topical Cyclone Harold and COVID-19 on the communities there, including those with a disability. While Tropical Cyclone Harold has increased the challenge of accessing WASH facilities in affected areas, particularly for vulnerable groups, the COVID-19 transmission risk means having access to WASH facilities is more important than ever.


James is a community member with a disability from South Santo and has played an important role with World Vision Vanuatu and in representing the needs of people living with a disability. He shared some of the challenges he has faced living with a disability,

“It has been so hard for me to shower and go to the toilet, and over the years it has also been harder for my ageing grandmother to lift me and care for me. I am so grateful for my new toilet and bathroom as I now don’t have to rely on anyone to keep myself clean.”


That toilet was made possible through the work of World Vision and has made things much easier for James and his family. And the ability to practice proper hygiene that has been made possible by this toilet also ensures they can practice good handwashing which is an important preventative measure against COVID-19.


Cassy Harvey, the UN Country Coordination Specialist in Vanuatu shared, “the visit to South Santo gave us insight into how community members with disabilities were affected by the cyclone. Meeting James and hearing his story was eye opening and a reminder of how important autonomy and dignity is for all people.”


The Water, Women and Disability study was endorsed by the Ministry of Justice and Community Services, and was designed and delivered in consultation and collaboration with the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (VNSO), the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, and Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association and Vanuatu Society for People with Disability.


Some of the key findings of the study included:

  • While 91% of households had access to an improved water supply, water availability was insufficient [not available every time needed in the last 3 months] for over half of all households (57%).
  • For people with disabilities, the impact of poor water access is profound. The study found that people with disabilities have less hygienic, convenient or dignified access to sanitation facilities at home compared with people without disabilities.
  • The report also found that women faced harmful taboos while menstruating and reported requiring greater access to water during menstruation.


World Vision Vanuatu Country Director, Kendra Gates Derousseau said, “Access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities is essential for everyone, but people with disabilities, those managing incontinence, and menstruating women, have extra needs and challenges. This report shines a light on those needs and outlines how they can be addressed.”


The Water, Women, and Disability study and report was funded by the Australian Government’s Water for Women Fund, along with additional funding from the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and donations from the Australian public to World Vision Australia.


Pictured: James and the delegation. For people with disabilities access to water and handwashing facilities is essential with the threat of COVID-19 to enable key preventative measures such as handwashing. (Mike Esrom Kaun/World Vision Vanuatu)


There are more than one billion people living with some form of disability. 80 per cent of them live in developing countries, and, globally, persons with disabilities experience disproportionate poverty. COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities faced by persons with disabilities. These include disparities in stigma and discrimination, access to health-care services, the digital divide, social protection and the risk of violence and abandonment - especially of those living in long- term care and institutionalized settings.

Women and girls, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, older persons and other marginalised populations are further exposed to intersecting risks. The pandemic can be an impetus to find new solutions for building more sustainable, inclusive and equal societies. Many hard-earned gains are now at a crossroad. It is, thus, imperative that disability-inclusion be an integral part of crisis response, recovery and “building back better.”



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