What’s in a bar of soap

By Elizabeth Stevens
“We need soap to wash our clothes," says Raiza, a mother of two. "The children’s clothes get very dirty…I’m worried about their health.” Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

“The water came very fast. We could only save our children, ourselves, and some clothes,” says a young mother, giving voice to a common experience of those uprooted by the floods in Pakistan.

In the midst of disasters where so many people have lost so much, why does Oxfam make providing soap such a high priority?

First and foremost, it’s because washing hands with soap is such an effective way to prevent the spread of diarrheal disease–which, under the difficult conditions of camp life, can be debilitating and even fatal.

But in emergencies, people have the right not only to health and safety but also to dignity. Soap enables a family to bathe and to wear clean clothes–simple acts with the power to restore a measure of well-being.

In the Pakistan flood emergency, Oxfam has distributed hygiene materials to more than half a million people. They include towels, water-purification tablets, sanitary pads, water buckets, and–no surprise–soap.

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