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Water and sanitation

Water pump
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Andy Brown
Students wash their hands at a new toilet block installed with UNICEF's support at their school in Cambodia.

Safe water, improved sanitation and good hygiene (WASH) prevent illness and disease. UNICEF has helped countries in East Asia and the Pacific make steady progress on expanding access to clean water and improved sanitation. Since 1990, the proportion of people in the region with proper sanitation facilities has risen from 49 per cent to 66 per cent – but this still means that around 670 million people do not have access to such facilities. On top of this, some 200 million people lack access to clean water.

Despite progress, pneumonia and diarrhoea remain the biggest killers of children under five-years-old in this region. Sanitation and hygiene remain among the main contributing factors to high child mortality and under-nutrition (stunting and anemia) rates. Differences in access to safe water and sanitation reveal widening social gaps, with rural areas, urban slums and shantytowns lagging far behind. Around 100 million people in the region - mostly the poor - are estimated to practice open defecation.

UNICEF believes that homes and communities, including schools and health centres, are the starting point for improving water quality, sanitation and hygiene, and for reducing child deaths from diarrhoea. Several countries in this region have achieved middle income status and are undergoing rapid economic changes.

Our approach in this context is a mixture of community based-activities and collecting evidence to advocate for national and sub-national investments in children. UNICEF plays a critical role in research, evaluation and sharing of good practice to guide lasting improvements in WASH services and to reach the marginalised and most vulnerable.

With our partners, UNICEF works to:

  • help governments design appropriate policies, national standards and guidelines, build institutional capacity and develop interventions
  • provide training and resources for communities to improve water quality, secure water supplies and safer sanitation facilities
  • support the provision of safe water, adequate sanitation, hand washing facilities and hygiene education in schools
  • train residents on the basics of household water treatment and safe storage
  • support public awareness campaigns about personal hygiene
  • undertake multi-country research to identify the main bottlenecks, and support strategies to address these at country level
  • facilitate networking between countries to ensure the sharing of good practice and learning.

UNICEF has also helped countries to identify contaminated groundwater and prevent communities from using these as sources of drinking water. We have developed strategies for water treatment, alternative safe water supplies, and promoting safe sanitation practices.

We help to build the capacity of government and partners in emergency preparedness and response, and take the lead in ensuring access to safe water and sanitation during emergencies and humanitarian crises.






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Data and statistics

View our latest data and statistics on water and sanitation in East Asia and the Pacific.
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