Young Child Survival and Development



Maternal and newborn health

Water, sanitation and hygiene

Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies


iCCM and malaria


Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0397/Hyun
Children collect water from a UNICEF-supported storage tank at a camp for people displaced by mudslides in Uganda.

When emergency strikes, and access to safe drinking water, adequate excreta disposal and means to undertake good hygiene behavior, are all compromised, children become more susceptible to illness and death as a result of diarrhoea and other water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related diseases. 

Eastern and Southern Africa is a region especially prone to natural disasters, including drought, floods, landslides, as well as political upheaval. In recent years, emergencies in this part of Africa have increased dramatically, and become more complex, with many of them involved cross-border issues.

In 2011-2012, the Horn of Africa region experienced one of the worst droughts in 60 years, affecting some 13 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. While in the Great Lakes region, intense fighting and prolonged conflict in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has forced tens of thousands of families abandoning their homes, and many crossing over to neighbouring countries, such as Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. 

The period during and after disasters signifies a time of great risk in the transmission of WASH-related diseases. Conditions are often unsanitary, conducive to disease outbreak.  Early identification of appropriate, technically sound WASH interventions is, therefore, critical, for a fast and effective response to disasters.

UNICEF in action

Guided by its Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs), UNICEF responds to emergencies by ensuring girls, boys and women have protected and reliable access to sufficient and safe water and sanitation and hygiene facilities. UNICEF commits to ensuring:

  • effective leadership and coordination in the WASH sector;

  • access to sufficient safe drinking, cooking and personal hygiene water;

  • access to toilets and washing facilities;

  • access to critical hygiene information that will prevent especially diarrhoeal disease; and,

  • access to safe WASH facilities for children in learning environments and child-friendly spaces.

In these roles, UNICEF is heavily involved in emergency preparedness and planning, and in support to post-emergency reconstruction efforts.

Results for children

UNICEF’s long presence in the region, working alongside governments and other partners, means that we are there before, during and after a crisis.

  • During the Horn of Africa response, close to 4.9 million people were provided with an improved water source through newly constructed or rehabilitated sources of water, as well as water treatment and trucking.

  • A similar number of people were reached through handwashing and safe drinking water campaigns, as well as the distribution of soap and other hygiene items. These interventions were critical to prevent outbreak of cholera and other acute watery diarrhoeal diseases.

  • As the WASH coordinator and leader, in 2011-2012, UNICEF led the preparedness and responses in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique and Comoros. 

  • Supporting governments in the region, UNICEF also takes the lead in developing standards of approach and implementation, mapping capacity and gaps, and preparation of funding appeals.



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