Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies
More than 250,000 children under the age of fivedie every year from diarrhoeal diseases in Eastern and Southern Africa. This represents 15 percent of all deaths in that age group. Lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, as well as unsafe hygiene practices are behind the high prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases in the region.
In the context of an emergency, children are even more susceptible to illness and death from diarrhoea and other water, sanitation and hygiene related diseases. Eastern and Southern Africa is especially risk-prone to disasters. Emergencies in this part of Africa have increased in recent years in both number and complexity.
In 2010, severe flooding and landslides displaced 103,000 people in Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and Zambia. Outbreaks of cholera, acute watery diarrhoea and measles once again struck due to poor water and sanitation conditions among the displaced people.
The period during and after disasters signifies a time of great risk in the transmission of infectious diseases. Conditions are often unsanitary and conducive to disease outbreak. Early identification of appropriate, technically sound and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene interventions is therefore critical, for a fast and effective response to disasters. Studies have shown that more than 600,000 child deaths in Africa could be avoided with improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Hand washing alone can reduce acute respiratory infections by up to 23 percent.
UNICEF in action
Guided by its Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs), UNICEF responds directly to emergencies by helping to protect and restore water and sanitation supplies and to promote safe hygiene practices.
In emergencies, UNICEF is also responsible for coordinating the overall emergency water, sanitation and hygiene response under the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee cluster approach. In both of these roles, UNICEF is heavily involved in emergency preparedness planning, and in support to post-emergency reconstruction efforts.
Results for children
As the lead agency of the water, sanitation and hygiene cluster, UNICEF facilitates the shift of the cluster focus from global to country level. The cluster approach is now the default coordination mechanism for county-level response to humanitarian emergencies.
Since 2005, eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have activated an emergency cluster for water, sanitation and hygiene: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. These work in the areas of hygiene promotion in emergencies, capacity mapping, information management and learning, and the development of guidance materials.
In 2009, 40 percent of the overall expenditure in the UNICEF water, sanitation and hygiene programme was on emergency preparedness and response activities. As an increasing number of assessments show, the luster approach has significantly strengthened umanitarian response in the sector, primarily y improving predictability and accountability in international responses to humanitarian emergencies.
UNICEF has also been supporting emergency response trainings in countries such as Kenya, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Tanzania. To respond to the growing number of cholera epidemics within the region, UNICEF and OXFAM UK further conducted preparedness and response trainings for cluster partners in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania and Zambia.
UNICEF’s prominent role in the water, sanitation and hygiene clusters well as its presence at country level was instrumental in the successful responses to major outbreaks of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea in 2009 in Ethiopia, Kenya and in Zimbabwe. More than 2.3 million people in the most affected areas were reached.
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