WASH: Water, sanitation and hygiene

Safe water, sanitation, and good hygiene practices

UNICEF Afghanistan/Omid


Clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices are essential to the survival and development of children. In Afghanistan, diarrhoeal diseases are the second most common cause of death for children under the age of five, after acute respiratory infections.

One of the most effective ways to save children’s lives is by teaching them proper hygiene practices – especially regular handwashing with water and soap – and guaranteeing them clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. Without these, children can suffer from diarrhoea and stunting (which means low weight for age and delayed cerebral development). In Afghanistan, two out of five young children are stunted. 

More than 65 per cent of Afghans have clean drinking water through ‘improved drinking water sources’ that are protected from outside contamination – a marked progress from a decade ago when drinking water reached only 20 per cent of people. However, although a little more than 80 per cent of families have toilets or latrines, only about 40 per cent are improved and safe – meaning they hygienically separate human waste from human contact.

Open defecation continues to be a dangerous challenge in Afghanistan because human waste near waterways and living environments spreads diseases quickly and puts children and their families at risk. 

UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Karimi
Mohammad and his wife Zahra are building their own sanitary latrine in their village in Daikundi province, Central Highlands, Afghanistan. It is part of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach that focuses on behaviour change by making people aware of the link between their faeces and diseases so that communities get inspired to come up with their own local solutions.

Reaching the hardest to reach children with proper sanitation and hygiene

Ending open defecation 
UNICEF, together with the Ministries of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Public Health, and Education, as well as local and international partners, have joined forces to end open defecation by 2025. We support communities to become ‘open defecation free’ by using the ‘Community-Led Total Sanitation’ approach, where a combination of shock, shame, disgust and pride, motivates people to build and use their own latrines.

Water supply in impoverished communities
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development’s rural water supply and sanitation programme to provide clean drinking water to communities that rely on rivers, streams, wells, boreholes and traditional ponds, as well as to those whose water systems have been destroyed or fallen into disrepair. Developing the government’s capacity on the construction of local water supply systems is an intrinsic part any long-term solution for the country. Partner organizations are also engaged to help supervise the construction of the water supply systems, ensuring their quality and sustainability.

In 2017, nearly 300,000 new people gained access to safe water.

UNICEF prioritizes gravity-fed piped drinking water systems or systems with solar pumps over the traditional boreholes with hand pumps because, for a marginally higher cost, these piped systems provide more water, are located closer to homes, and are usually easier and cheaper to maintain. 

UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Hamdard
A group of adolescent girls wash their hands with soap at a new handwashing station in their school in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools 
A healthy and clean school environment coupled with information about proper hygiene encourages students to stay in school and motivates them to develop sound hygiene practices that they can also share with their families. UNICEF continuously works with the Ministry of Education to bring water, separate toilets for boys and girls, menstrual hygiene management facilities, and handwashing stations to schools in Afghanistan.

UNICEF’s work on hygiene and sanitation has a broader impact on helping girls stay in school.

Installing washrooms in girls’ toilets where they can manage their periods and introducing curricula on menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls can make a difference between girls attending school or staying at home. In the coming years, UNICEF will also focus on the rehabilitation of WASH facilities in schools. 

WASH in health centres
The Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization and UNICEF have teamed up to rehabilitate health centres so they become ‘good hygiene examples’ for others. This ensures the health of patients and decreases preventable diseases and deaths, in particular for mothers and children during and after childbirth. Clean environments also serve as an example for visitors and staff. 

WASH in emergencies
UNICEF coordinates the WASH Emergency Cluster in Afghanistan – a group of national and international non-governmental organizations that responds to emergencies. During a natural disaster or conflict, the cluster partners provide safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and hygiene education to children and families in need.  

UNICEF Afghanistan/2018/Moqarabi
UNICEF distributes hygiene kits to returnees and internally displaced families in the village of Kamalpoor, Laghman province, eastern Afghanistan. The kits contain essential supplies like soap, detergent, towels, sanitary pads, and a plastic bucket to collect water, and other item to ensure hygiene and dignity for families in emergency situations.