Women in WASH: Reducing the climate change impact on children and young people
Rebecca Bushby, a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Officer specialized in Climate Change and Peacebuilding, reflects on how her work contributes results for children and young people and shares insights into humanitarian careers
Rebecca, what is your role at UNICEF?
I am a WASH Officer, specialized in Climate Change and Peacebuilding. I currently work at UNICEF Iran and the Middle East and North Africa Regional Office, though I am based in Tehran. Previously, I have also worked at UNICEF Lebanon.
What is your background? What experiences shaped your path to a humanitarian career and UNICEF?
I travelled a lot with my family growing up, and knew from quite early on that I wanted to live and work abroad. I was unsure about what I wanted to study, but selected a BA in International Development Studies at the University of Oslo as it covered a large range of the societal and development issues I found interesting. I was lucky enough to be able to take several breaks during my Bachelor studies. I interned at the World Food Programme in Copenhagen and the Norwegian Peace Corps in Kenya, and I studied a semester abroad at UC Berkeley.
Through these experiences and during my studies, I got quite passionate about water quality, quantity and associated health risks. I realized that I wanted to continue in the development and humanitarian field, but that I wanted to gain some more specialized skills. While looking for public health degrees I came across the MSc in Water, Sanitation and Health Engineering at the University of Leeds. It focuses on WASH in development and humanitarian contexts, taking into account health risks, climate change and water scarcity and emergency settings, which was spot-on for my interests at the time. I loved how practical and humanitarian-focused the degree was. I was really interested in the Middle East, water scarcity, and refugee contexts, so I went to Lebanon for three months and researched water usage and hygiene in informal refugee settlements for my master's thesis.
After my MSc, I did a bit of volunteering until I started working in the Norwegian Red Cross on community-based surveillance for epidemic preparedness in Africa. Working with communities and on health risks was fascinating. After a few years, I knew I wanted to transition back into WASH, and I also really wanted to go back to Lebanon.
When I saw the Norwegian JPO position for a WASH officer with UNICEF in Beirut I knew had to apply, and I was lucky to start my UNICEF career there in 2020.
How does your work at UNICEF contribute to results for children?
Climate change is a child’s rights crisis, and not only does climate change threaten to undermine the rights and the advances made for children, but it is also children and youth who will have to navigate the climate challenges in the future.
Within our climate change initiatives, we work towards protecting children and youth against the impacts of climate change, preparing children and youth to live in a climate-changed world, and prioritizing children in climate change budgets and discussions at national and international level. This all involves working towards making systems resilient to climate change (WASH, health, education, social protection, etc), improving the adaptive capacity of children and youth and giving them spaces to participate, and advocating for urgent focus and funding for the climate crisis and the impacts to children.
What is your advice to young professionals interested in pursuing a career in the humanitarian and development sector?
I will share the best advice I ever received: don’t be afraid to connect with colleagues in your workplace (or in the field you want to pursue). Invite people for coffee, learn about their work, skills, and the paths they took to get to where they are. Along the way you will be sure to learn a lot about the field of your interest, as well as get valuable knowledge on navigating the field.
Junior Professional Officer at UNICEF
Through the JPO Programme, UNICEF supports the development of young professionals interested in growing in the organization and making important contributions to our future and work. The programme is sponsored by donor governments.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
The consequences of unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) on children can be deadly. Over 700 children under age 5 die every day of diarrhoeal diseases due to lack of appropriate WASH services. In areas of conflict, children are nearly 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than from the conflict itself.