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Water and sanitation in homes and communities

Bathing, Timor-Leste

The Issues

Millions of children in our region suffer the consequences of unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene in their homes and communities. Every year, approximately 187,000 children in our region die from diarrhoeal diseases. More than 420 million children in China and South-East Asia have parasitic infections, which can lead to developmental problems if left untreated.

  • Slow progress. Between 1990 and 2006, access to water in our region rose by 19 percentage points. Current data does not reveal whether water supplies are safe and adequate.
  • Water shortages. Water sources in some areas are disappearing because of poor management, population growth and over-use.
  • Arsenic contamination of groundwater is a continuing problem in Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam.
  • Urban and rural disparities.  Urban water coverage has reached more than 90 per cent across the region, but rural water coverage in some  countries is as low as 32 per cent.
  • Serious environmental health hazards. An estimated 305,000 metric tons of fresh excreta are deposited daily into our region’s fields and watersheds, contaminating water sources, food and soil.
  • Lack of hygiene. Hygienic practices, such as using a sanitary latrine, hand washing with soap and proper handling of drinking water at home, are often overlooked in our region.

Bathing at home in Indonesia
Bathing at home in Indonesia

UNICEF in Action

UNICEF believes homes and communities are the starting point for improving water quality, sanitation and hygiene, and reducing child deaths from diarrhoea. With our partners, we engage in the following activities:

  • Helping local governments design appropriate policies, build institutional capacity and create cross-sector interventions;
  • Providing training and resources for communities to improve water quality, secure water supplies and build safer sanitation facilities;
  • Training residents on the basics of household water treatment and safe storage; and
  • Running public awareness campaigns about personal hygiene.

Working with villagers to provide arsenic-free water supply in Myanmar

Arsenic, a naturally occurring element, recently was discovered in many of the aquifers lying beneath the alluvial plains of Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy Delta. As thousands of tube wells were drilled to access these water sources over the past few years, many people were being exposed to imperceptible danger. UNICEF now is ensuring that families have safer water alternatives by supporting the construction of new community drinking water systems in the most heavily arsenic-affected areas. UNICEF also has conducted some 150,000 tests of water sources in high-risk areas, mapping every village and water source where the water is not safe. Contaminated wells are marked with a bright red band to warn families of the hidden danger and the most-affected villages are targeted for immediate action. UNICEF compliments the new clean water systems with community education activities to ensure that families living in at-risk areas appreciate the importance of drinking water from safe sources. Working with villagers, UNICEF helps determine what system is best for a community, combining technical feasibility with social feasibility.

Clean water changes the lives of children in Houay Hid village, Lao PDR
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