Water, sanitation and hygiene

Every child has the right to clean water and basic sanitation facilities.

Young boy in green shirt drinks water from a tap
UNICEF Gambia/Pirozzi

The challenge

Globally 844 million people don’t have clean water, 2.3 billion people don't have a decent toilet, and 31 per cent of schools don’t have clean water. This means that 1 in 9 people in the world don't have clean water close to home, and 1 in 3 people don't have a decent toilet. In addition, every minute a newborn dies from infection caused by lack of safe water and an unclean environment. Diarrhoea, caused by dirty water and poor toilets, kills a child under 5 every 2 minutes, while 443 million school days are lost for school-going children every year because of water-related illnesses.

In The Gambia, 61.8 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation, with 1 per cent still practicing open defecation, and only 30.9 per cent of the population practicing hand washing with soap or other detergents.

Efforts to ensure access to safe drinking water have been effective over the past years. Children and their families in The Gambia have gained improved and equitable access to and utilize safe drinking water with 90 per cent of the population accessing improved water sources in 2018 from 86 per cent in 2010, however only 34 per cent (one third) of households are using safely managed drinking water services. 1 per cent of the population is practicing open defecation an improvement from 2.8 per cent in 2010 with 62 per cent having access to improved Sanitation. In line with the SDG service ladders of sanitation, only 47 per cent of the household population have access to a basic level of service. The proportion of household members with a hand washing facility where water and soap or detergent are present remains low at 31 per cent compared to 30.3 per cent in 2010 which requires intensified efforts (MICS 2010, 2018). 

Inadequate water supply and improved sanitation in schools, health care facilities, and public places remains a challenge. In spite of 84 per cent of primary schools having WASH facilities that met national standards, there are significant disparities exist between the urban and rural schools. Ensuring provision of gender separated facilities that meet the specific needs for girls remains a key focus for the country office.   Water quality in The Gambia is also of great concern, as 45.3 per cent of the water sources are contaminated with E.coli, and 73.2 per cent of the household population had E. coli in household drinking water.

The solution

No child gets sick or dies as a result of drinking contaminated water, being exposed to human excreta, or having no place to wash their hands with soap. No child should have to stay away from school for lack of a clean toilet and privacy. No mother or newborn should contract an infection from an unsanitary delivery room when they are most vulnerable. And no one should suffer the indignity of having to defecate in the open.

As a commitment to supporting The Gambian Government in achieving NDP goals and SDG 6, we have made tremendous efforts in ensuring universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and ending open defecation while paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

Through support to the WASH sector, 180,627 people (91,216 female, 89,411 male and 84,724 children (43512 girls 41212 boys)) have gained access to and utilize safe drinking water, sanitation services and adopted improved hygiene practices and behaviors contributing to the national proportion of 90 per cent population accessing improved water sources, 62 per cent improved sanitation facilities and 31 per cent practicing hand washing with soap (MICS 2018).  

Increasing the population’s access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation dramatically reduces their susceptibility to water-borne diseases, and the likelihood, especially for women and children, of incurring additional expenses related to treatment and missing school days due to lack of dignified sanitation facilities. In partnership with Government, CSOs, NGOs, and other UN Agencies in country, we support the strengthening of institutional capacities, for planning, implementing and monitoring sustainable WASH programmes.

For every child, proper sanitation

Going forward, UNICEF will focus on sustaining the gains registered through several measures and strategies, including:

• Scaling up the campaign to end open defecation in urban areas, while consolidating and sustaining ODF achievements in rural areas 
• Enhancing sanitation around public places, markets, and garages through the construction of public latrines, capacity building within community structures to maintain hygiene and upkeep
• Improving access to safe potable water in schools and health centers, while paying attention to water quality.
• Improving access to basic sanitation in schools and riverine communities.
• Enhancing the capacity of partners to implement WASH services.
• Exploring innovations and initiatives to provide appropriate sanitation solutions to riverine communities and areas with difficult soil formations.
• Mapping of sanitation and water points in the country.
• Scaling up the last mile campaign using our NSA KENNO approach to achieve 100% ODF status