Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies
When emergency strikes, and access to safe drinking water, adequate excreta disposal and means to undertake good hygiene behavior, are all compromised, children become more susceptible to illness and death as a result of diarrhoea and other water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related diseases.
Eastern and Southern Africa is a region especially prone to natural disasters, including drought, floods, landslides, as well as political upheaval. In recent years, emergencies in this part of Africa have increased dramatically, and become more complex, with many of them involved cross-border issues.
In 2011-2012, the Horn of Africa region experienced one of the worst droughts in 60 years, affecting some 13 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. While in the Great Lakes region, intense fighting and prolonged conflict in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has forced tens of thousands of families abandoning their homes, and many crossing over to neighbouring countries, such as Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.
The period during and after disasters signifies a time of great risk in the transmission of WASH-related diseases. Conditions are often unsanitary, conducive to disease outbreak. Early identification of appropriate, technically sound WASH interventions is, therefore, critical, for a fast and effective response to disasters.
UNICEF in action
Guided by its Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs), UNICEF responds to emergencies by ensuring girls, boys and women have protected and reliable access to sufficient and safe water and sanitation and hygiene facilities. UNICEF commits to ensuring:
In these roles, UNICEF is heavily involved in emergency preparedness and planning, and in support to post-emergency reconstruction efforts.
Results for children
UNICEF’s long presence in the region, working alongside government and other partners, means that we are there before, during and after a crisis.
During the Horn of Africa response, close to 4.9 million people were provided with an improved water source through newly constructed or rehabilitated sources of water, water treatment and trucking, and support to communal water systems. A similar number of people were reached through hand-washing and safe drinking water campaigns, as well as the distribution of soap and other hygiene items. Another key element to the WASH response was the prevention of outbreak of cholera and other acute watery diarrheal diseases.
A key commitment for UNICEF is coordination and leadership in the WASH sector. In 2011-2012 UNICEF led the WASH sector in preparedness and responses in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique and Comoros. Supporting governments in the region, UNICEF also took the lead in developing standards of approach and implementation, mapping capacity and gaps, and preparation of funding appeals.
Another important role UNICEF plays is its leadership and collaboration in the Joint Cholera Initiative for Southern Africa (JCISA). This partnership involves multiple agencies and cuts across various programme areas to build on lessons learned from recent outbreaks, particularly the 2008-09 cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. Partners of JCISA are also advocating for the need of multi-sector preparedness and response, and the need to work together beyond national borders.
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