Diploma course: Strengthening skills in the humanitarian WASH

Written by Ewoud Kok, on 18 August 2022

Providing access to toilets and water in emergencies and other fragile contexts is a huge challenge. Professionals in the Humanitarian Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector must be able to collaborate with many partners, coordinate complex efforts in remote areas, communicate well with diverse communities and solve a myriad of unexpected problems. Without those abilities, even the most innovative latrine or the best faecal sludge management system will have little effect, said Maria Jose Pinzon, a seasoned WASH professional with experience from countries including Greece, Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali.  

That’s why she is taking the Graduate Professional Diploma Programme (GPDP) in Humanitarian WASH, a series of four online courses offered since early 2021 by IHE Delft in cooperation with UNICEF and humanitarian sector organizations.

Maria Jose Pinzon, from Spain, said she is taking the course to strengthen the leadership competencies she needs to manage effective WASH responses.

“I'm a seasoned and highly passionate WASH humanitarian professional with 15 years of experience in more than 25 countries worldwide. Being a humanitarian entails challenges all the time, conflict, disasters, humanitarian access, security, etc,” she said.

“One of the biggest challenges of the last years has been coordinating WASH responses remotely due to the impossibility of reaching the field because of security or COVID restrictions. WASH responses require big teams, coordination, collaboration, community engagement approaches as a way of working, and lots of behaviour change. Implementing all this remotely is not an easy task. Last year in Sudan, when coordinating the WASH emergency response in the camps in Gedaref, I had to do it remotely by phone since the internet was not strong enough. It was a great challenge that we overcame and feel proud of.”


She said humanitarians at all levels need to strengthen their capacity.

“I can be an incredible WASH practitioner, like those who can find water anywhere, can design the most innovative latrine, or that can set up a faecal sludge management system in the middle of nowhere, but if I lack coordination skills or if I don’t know how to approach communities and people, and if I don’t feel comfortable collaborating and cooperating with partners, all my technical knowledge and its impact might be reduced to nothing,” she said.

Taking part in the GPDP has been fantastic for me, and this has been possible thanks to its online format. I’m a single mother jumping from mission to mission and have many responsibilities that would not allow me to do a face-to-face program, so the format is highly appreciated. It is well structured, easy to manage, and professors are always there for you if something arises.
Maria Jose Pinzon
Course participant

The GDPD programme helps participants strengthen their capacities, she said. So far, the courses have attracted just over 50 students, with interest growing.

“Everything you learn applies daily if you work in the humanitarian WASH sector,” she said, adding that despite her years of experience, she learns a lot from the courses. The online format enables her to take part while jumping from mission to mission – though a reliable internet connection can be a challenge.

Holistic view

The programme’s holistic view and focus on interpersonal skills appealed to course participant Bill Wood from Australia, a former business manager now engaged in humanitarian work in South East Asia. He joined the courses as he became aware of how crucial WASH services are to community development during work in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.  

“My exposure to larger-scale crisis situations through the GPDP has lead me to see that the breadth of scope of appropriate response needs to be larger. Appropriate response needs to be inclusive, and take account not only of the many WASH players, but of the many other humanitarian cluster members if a community is to be helped through the crisis, back onto its feet, and on to independent status, so that the task of the intervention is complete,” he said.

I now have a much greater appreciation of the process of a humanitarian WASH intervention. The boost to my self-confidence through feeling I am up to speed with Humanitarian WASH will stand me in good stead.
Bill Wood
Course participant

The themes, topics and duration of the four modules have been elaborated in a consultation process with UNICEF, IHE Delft and the main humanitarian actors that form the programme’s steering committee.

“Experts from the humanitarian sector reviewed the content and structure of the courses, provided practical examples and actively participated in bringing in their expertise and experience from the field,” said Tineke Hooijmans, IHE Delft Associate Professor of Sanitation Engineering and GPDP coordinator.

GPDP in Emergency WASH

The Graduate Professional Diploma Programme in Humanitarian WASH comprises four online courses that will be offered yearly. Each course is autonomous and can be taken separately.

The  modules include live sessions and work that participants can complete at their own schedule. The study load is 140 hours per course, for a total of 560 study hours for the GPDP. Participants who complete all four courses (in any order) will be awarded an IHE Delft GPDP diploma in humanitarian WASH.

The programme is part of efforts to address gaps in competences in the humanitarian WASH sector, as described in the roadmap of the Global WASH cluster 2020-2025.  In the future, the four modules are set to be extended and integrated in the offerings of  academic institutions in Africa, Asia and South America.


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