Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

WASH initiative highlights African women’s needs for improved water and sanitation

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ00-0180/ Pirozzi
Two women collect water for washing at the edge of the Limpopo River, Mozambique. The WASH initiative seeks to prioritize the needs of women and girls in water and sanitation.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, 15 September 2005 – As world leaders meet at the United Nations World Summit, UNICEF is helping call attention to a problem that condemns millions of women and children in sub-Saharan Africa to a life of illness and lost opportunities: Poor access to water and basic sanitation.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman will join other members of the Women Leaders for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiative in highlighting the issue during the Summit.

Access to clean water is one of UNICEF’s top priorities. It is not only one of the world’s most urgent health issues but is also a key to boosting progress in Africa.

“Over 58 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa live within 30 minutes walk of safe water and only 16 per cent have a household connection,” explains Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF’s Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation. “The people that suffer the most are women and children.

“Invariably it’s the women and young girls that are carrying the water for long distances. In some cases, they’re travelling for up to three to four hours a day collecting water for their homes. That is both a physical burden on women and an economic burden on these countries. When women are spending time and energy collecting water, they’re not spending time and energy on other aspects.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ00-0509/ Chalasani
Their jerrycans filled, two women walk away from a water source between the southern villages of Wajid and Rabdure, Somalia. In some cases, women travel for three to four hours daily simply to collect water.

The big picture

The seventh of the eight Millennium Development Goals calls for governments to cut by half the percentage of their population living without safe water and basic sanitation. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that looks set to miss both of these targets unless a concerted effort is made.

Poor sanitation leads to poor health. More than 700,000 African children die every year from diarrhoea. Diarrhoea can also lead to chronic malnutrition. Millions of children who survive suffer from chronic malnutrition, which is responsible for over half of all child deaths on the continent.

Sickness forces children to miss school and can damage their ability to learn. It has been shown that providing schools with basic sanitation, including separate toilets for boys and girls, improves attendance and encourages more girls to enrol. When children learn good hygiene practices at school, they take the lessons home, which in turn spreads healthy practices amongst the community.

“Again it is women that suffer when latrines are not available close to the house,” says Ms. Tobin. “People want latrines invariably not for reasons of health or hygiene – they want sanitation at their homes for convenience, dignity and privacy for women. The health and hygiene benefits occur in the long run from providing them with these facilities.”

Women Leaders for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman has joined the Women Leaders for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiative, which is calling for a greater focus on meeting the needs of women and girls in this area. Other prominent women involved include Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Norway’s Minister for International development, and Minister Maria Mutagamba, Uganda’s Minister for State for Water.

WASH helps governments involve women in the planning process for water and sanitation projects. The initiative supports the concept that bringing better services to women and girls will benefit entire communities.


 

 

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15 September 2005:
As UN World Summit in New York continues, UNICEF calls on global leaders to improve water and sanitation to protect women and children.

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15 September 2005:
Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF’s Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation, talks about the impact of not having access to clean water on the women and children of Sub-Saharan Africa.

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