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Evidence-based chlorination targets for household water safety in humanitarian settings: Recommendations from a multi-site study in refugee camps in South Sudan, Jordan, and Rwanda

The current Sphere guideline for water chlorination in humanitarian emergencies fails to reliably ensure household water safety in refugee camps. We investigated post-distribution chlorine decay and household water safety in refugee camps in South Sudan, Jordan, and Rwanda between 2013-2015 with the goal of demonstrating an approach for generating site-specific and evidence-based chlorination targets that bet- ter ensure household water safety than the status quo Sphere guideline. In each of four field studies we conducted, we observed how water quality changed between distribution and point of consumption. We implemented a nonlinear optimization approach for the novel technical challenge of modelling post- distribution chlorine decay in order to generate estimates on what free residual chlorine (FRC) levels must be at water distribution points, in order to provide adequate FRC protection up to the point of con- sumption in households many hours later at each site. The site-specific FRC targets developed through this modelling approach improved the proportion of households having sufficient chlorine residual (i.e., ≥0.2 mg/L FRC) at the point of consumption in three out of four field studies (South Sudan 2013, Jordan 2014, and Rwanda 2015). These sites tended to be hotter (i.e., average mid-afternoon air temperatures > 30 °C) and/or had poorer water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) conditions, contributing to consider- able chlorine decay between distribution and consumption. Our modelling approach did not work as well where chlorine decay was small in absolute terms (Jordan 2015). In such settings, which were cooler (20 to 30 °C) and had better WASH conditions, we found that the upper range of the current Sphere chlori- nation guideline (i.e., 0.5 mg/L FRC) provided sufficient residual chlorine for ensuring household water safety up to 24 hours post-distribution. Site-specific and evidence-based chlorination targets generated from post-distribution chlorine decay modelling could help improve household water safety and public health outcomes in refugee camp settings where the current Sphere chlorination guideline does not pro- vide adequate residual protection. Water quality monitoring in refugee/IDP camps should shift focus from distribution points to household points of consumption in order to monitor if the intended public health goal of safe water at the point of consumption is being achieved.

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