Water, sanitation and hygiene
Climate change has deprived children and families of clean water, but UNICEF meets this large-scale challenge with small-scale solutions
In Afghanistan, the effects of climate change are felt first through water – and, worst, for children.
Record droughts have forced families from their homes by the tens of thousands, in search of clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing. Today, nearly two thirds of people have been impacted by drought. This means an entire generation of children already knows what it is to suffer malnutrition from dying crops, or cholera from contaminated streams, or poverty as families flee villages left dry and barren.
As river levels plummet, extreme weather is predicted to become the norm across the country. Rising temperatures and hazardous pollution are worsening the water crisis, making water less safe while it becomes more scarce.
Deprived of clean water in their homes, hospitals and schools, children in Afghanistan are now more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change than children in most every other country. Surging rates of malnutrition and unparalleled outbreaks of water-borne disease are keeping them from school and other essential services, at the time they need these services most.
But the burdens of water scarcity fall heaviest on girls. Women and girls are often responsible for fetching water for their households – an everyday chore that robs them of precious hours for learning or pursuing livelihoods. They’re also obliged to stay home and care for children who fall ill with disease or malnutrition. Increasingly, water and food shortages are driving parents to offer daughters into child marriage, a last resort against hunger.
And the scale of this crisis is magnifying. After decades of conflict and instability, resources needed to cope with environmental shocks have been severely strained, leaving a third of the population without access to basic drinking water today. As more communities vie for a shrinking resource no one can live without, tensions flare – both within the country and across borders. Disputes with neighbouring nations over water rights have already led to violent clashes, fueled by the deepening climate crisis throughout the region.
Through it all, Afghanistan’s children cannot afford more deprivation, more insecurity – or a war over water.
This large-scale challenge can be met with small-scale solutions. UNICEF has over 70 years of experience partnering with communities in Afghanistan to deliver lifesaving, sustainable services. Today, we’re the lead provider of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) across the country.
We bring climate-resilient facilities straight to children in need, installing solar-powered pumps that make clean water accessible to entire communities – and keep water management in their hands. Our work with over 30,000 community-elected councils ensures decisions about water come from households, with women and children at the heart of every solution.
With access to more parts of the country than any other humanitarian responder, UNICEF focuses on communities where the burden of water collection falls to girls, and where distance to sanitation facilities puts girls’ safety at risk. We also support the menstrual hygiene needs of girls in school to reduce the number of days they miss in the classroom.
Our programming goes beyond service delivery to ensure sustainability for communities, and for the environment. UNICEF is the lead agency monitoring underground water sources, a vital buffer against climate shocks. We strengthen the capacity of local WASH partners to address issues of water shortage. And one hundred per cent of our facilities are small-scale and solar-powered – run for communities, by communities.
UNICEF water pumps and sanitation facilities reach villages and cities, schools and health centres. For families who have been displaced by droughts and other emergencies, UNICEF trucks supplies for clean water and safe hygiene to settlement camps, providing a first line of defense against disease and malnutrition.
No matter where we reach children, our community-based projects are designed to be accessible for those living with disabilities, and to meet the protection needs of girls. Because if UNICEF isn’t there, no one is.