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Water and sanitation

Water pump
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Andy Brown
Students wash their hands at a new toilet block installed with UNICEF's support at their school in Cambodia.

Safe water, improved sanitation and good hygiene (WASH) prevent illness and disease. UNICEF has helped countries in East Asia and the Pacific make steady progress on expanding access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation and hygiene. Several countries in this region have achieved middle income status and are undergoing rapid economic changes, however, since 1990, the proportion of people in the region with proper sanitation facilities has risen from 49 per cent to 76 per cent most recently– but this still means that around 519 million people do not have access to such facilities. Access to safe /improved water supply increased greatlybut some 130 million people lack access to safe water.

Despite steady progress, pneumonia and diarrhoea remain the biggest killers of children under five-years-old in this region. Sanitation and hygiene remain among the main contributing factors to high child mortality and under-nutrition (stunting and anemia) rates. Differences in access to safe water and sanitation reveal persisting inequities, with rural areas, urban slums and poorest part of the population lagging far behind. Around 83 million people or 4% of the population in the region - mostly the poor - are estimated to practice open defecation.

In the Pacific sub-region, consisting of 14 Pacific island countries and Papua New Guinea, both sanitation and water coverage is far below the East Asia average, with rate of progress stagnant, with minimal gains made since 1990. The overall water security of Pacific island countries are threatened by population growth, urbanisation, and changing land-use pattern and the impacts of climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather, such as tropical depressions and cyclones.

Besides homes and communities, UNICEF believes that schools and health centres are also important starting point for improving water quality, sanitation and hygiene, and for reducing child deaths from diarrhoea.  Recognizing the importance of adequate gender separated WASH in School (WinS) facilities, and as access in primary schools across the region if 8 per cent lower than the global average (69% versus 61 % in East Asia and Pacific), UNICEF continues its support national partners in scaling up the 3-Star WASH in Schools approach for improvements at scale. 

Our approach is to strengthen national systems and capacity through a mix of community based-activities and collecting evidence to advocate for equitable national and sub-national investments in children. UNICEF plays a critical role in development and testing of models and approaches, and research, evaluation and sharing of good practice to guide lasting improvements in WASH services, reaching the marginalized and most vulnerable.

With our partners, and in support of the Sustainable Development WASH Goals and Targets, UNICEF works to:

  • help governments design and implement appropriate gender sensitive policies, national standards and guidelines, build institutional capacity and develop interventions
  • provide training and resources for communities to improve water quality, secure water supplies and safer sanitation facilities
  • support scale-up of the 3-Star WASH in Schools approach for the provision of safe water, gender appropriate  sanitation, hand washing facilities and hygiene education in schools
  • raise awareness in household on the basics of household water treatment and safe storage
  • support public awareness campaigns about personal hygiene
  • undertake multi-country research to identify the main bottlenecks, and support strategies to address these at country level
  • facilitate exchange of lessons and good practices between countries.
  • Work with national government partners as well as private sector, donors, academia and media to achieve WASH improvements at scale

In areas of high risk for arsenic contamination, UNICEF has also helped countries to identify contaminated groundwater and prevent communities from using these as sources of drinking water. UNICEF continues to support development of strategies for water treatment, alternative safe water supplies, and promoting safe sanitation practices.

In situation of emergencies, UNICEF leads the IASC WASH Cluster coordination, at the same time keeping focus on building the capacity of government and partners in emergency coordination, preparedness and response and for building community resilience.






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