One of the best defences against disease

How UNICEF is equipping families and communities with soap and clean water to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

WASH in Yemen: a girl carrying a jerrycan
11 October 2021

One of the cheapest, easiest, and most important ways to prevent the spread of disease is frequent handwashing with soap and water. But for many children and families, basic water and hygiene facilities remain out of reach. 

Thirty per cent of the world’s population lacks access to soap and water at home, while 900 million children lack soap and water at their school.

UNICEF is working with governments and companies around the world to urgently reach them with safe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. In 2020, we reached more than 106 million people with such services and supplies. With our partners, we reached 3 billion people with information on risk prevention and physical distancing and trained 4 million health workers on COVID-19 infection prevention control.

We are committed to not only making sure families, health workers, students and teachers have this means of protecting themselves against the virus, but to build back better – to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene is a reality for every child.

30% of the world’s population lacks access to soap and water at home.

Photo above: Hayat Ali Amkam, 9, collects water in a camp for internally displaced people in Aden, Yemen. UNICEF is scaling up its response across the country by providing clean water to communities in need and distributing basic hygiene kits – containing soap, towels, buckets and jerry cans – to displaced families.



WASH response in Afghanistan: A health worker teaches a child handwashing techniques on the side of a mountain road

Idress Seyawash, founder of Ketab lwast, a mobile library, travels from Jalalabad city to Behsood District – around 300 km – as part of a 25-day campaign to raise awareness on how to prevent COVID-19 and to promote handwashing among children.

In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF supplied more than 84 tons of soap to the most vulnerable families in Afghanistan, including an estimated 45,000 internally displaced people, more than half of whom were children. We also worked to support communities with safe water, including by installing a water tank and water filter at Herat Regional Hospital.



WASH response in Bangladesh: girls washing their hands with soap

Children wash their hands with soap at a UNICEF-supported learning centre in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

The refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are home to 850,000 Rohingya refugees, over half of whom are children. These densely populated camps are at high risk to COVID-19 infection. UNICEF has been providing hand washing lessons to children as part of our wider water, sanitation and hygiene work in the camps.

Côte d'Ivoire

WASH in Côte d'Ivoire: a U-reporter supervises handwashing
UNICEF/UNI325634// Frank Dejongh

U-reporters raising awareness about good handwashing practices to help people protect against COVID-19.

As soon as the first cases of coronavirus appeared in Africa, UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire launched a communication campaign in the country to raise awareness of the virus and provide accurate information on how people can protect themselves. The campaign uses various tools, partnerships and platforms, including U-reporters, a dynamic and engaged community of young people ready to take action for positive change. UNICEF is also distributing soap and hygiene kits among local communities.



WASH response in Jordan: a young girl washes her hands at a communal water tap

"I wash my hands so germs don't get on them," says Dareen, 6, taking part in a handwashing demonstration at a primary school in Jordan. "Germs can make people sick or even kill them.”

Only 33 per cent of public schools in Jordan have access to basic sanitation facilities. When the pandemic emerged, UNICEF and partners scaled up hygiene awareness and the distribution of soap, particularly in vulnerable communities, to equip children and their parents with the means to protect themselves.

Restrictions on movement in refugee camps also increased the demand for water beyond existing capacity. UNICEF mobilized partners to expand water trucking in northern and eastern Jordan to respond to these needs.



WASH response in Kenya: a boy learns proper handwashing

A young boy keenly follows instructions on how to wash hands properly at a water station in Kibera.

UNICEF is a leading voice for children affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in Kenya. At the beginning of April 2020, we supported the Government by delivering water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to Kibera. These included 26,000 bars of soap for vulnerable families and 100 sprayers for disinfecting public spaces.

UNICEF trained community volunteers to spread health messages among the public and provided posters, flyers and public address systems for them to reach their communities.


South Sudan

WASH response in South Sudan: a boy receives hygiene kits from health workers

A boy collects buckets and soap that UNICEF and partners were providing to all the residents – approximately 7,500 people – of a protection-of-civilians site in Juba.

Together with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF trained health workers and provided them with personal protection equipment, and distributed hygiene items in order to keep health and nutrition facilities running.



COVID-19 WASH response in Venezuela: a young girl with her hands in the air at a water station

David Simón, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF Venezuela (right), talks with a girl at a health centre located on the outskirts of Caracas.

Venezuela is facing the COVID-19 pandemic while suffering a major gasoline shortage and a collapsed national water system that has left many homes without running water. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, UNICEF helped to repair and install new handwashing facilities at priority health centres and provided critical supplies for cleaning, hygiene and personal protection to health care facilities and households.


Viet Nam

Dancer Quang Dang accompanies children as they do the ‘handwashing dance’, promoting the message “Wash your hands clean and frequently to prevent #coronavirus!”.

In addition to providing emergency safe water systems to schools, UNICEF and partners distributed essential supplies like soap, hand sanitizer and water filters to schools, health centres and communities across the country. The supplies reached approximately 500,000 people, including 300,000 school students.

As schools reopened in 2020 with enhanced measures for the safety of students and teachers, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Education to highlight the challenges faced in around 30 per cent of schools that lacked running water and other safe hygiene and sanitation measures. This meant reaching approximately 6.4 million students, providing access to clean water and soap or a temporary supply of hand sanitizer for all children, while more sustainable measures were introduced.

This article was originally published on 13 May, 2020. It was last updated on 11 October, 2021.