Water, sanitation and hygiene

We work with government and partners to ensure that every child in India has access to clean water, basic toilets and practices good hygiene behaviors.

A girl cups her hands under a tap and drinks clean water
UNICEF/UN0274895/Panjwani

Strengthening sustainable WASH programming

India has made rapid progress in ending open defecation across the Country which is having a huge impact on improving water, sanitation and hygeine (WASH). Just a few years ago, in 2015, nearly half of India’s population of around 568 million people suffered the indignity of defecating in fields, forests, bodies of water, or other public spaces due to lack of access to toilets. India alone accounted for 90 per cent of the people in South Asia and half of the 1.2 billion people in the world that defecated in the open.

By 2019, according to the latest estimates, the number of people without access to toilets has reduced significantly by an estimated 450 million people. A tremendous achievement, only possible because of the Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) (Clean India Campaign), led by the Prime Minister. UNICEF has been a proud partner of the Swacch Bharat Mission. 

Going forward, it is important to ensure that there is sustained usage of toilets by, all at all time.

Whether in the cities or the countryside, open defecation has historically been most prevalent among the poorest citizens.

This practice amounted to tonnes of faeces introduced daily into the environment, which regularly exposed India’s children to excrement through direct contact. The risk of spreading diarrheal and waterborne diseases is compounded by the lack of regular handwashing and microbial contamination of water in their homes and communities. The situation contributed to nearly 100,000 diarrhoeal deaths of children under five years in India.

Poor sanitation can also have a ripple effect when it hinders national development because workers are suffering from illnesses and living shorter lives, thereby producing and earning less, and unable to afford education and stable futures for their children.

Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in India’s health facilities, contributes to the high neonatal mortality rate, which is currently 24 deaths per 1000 live births. Sepsis – mostly spread in health facilities – contributes to 15 per cent of the overall neonatal mortality and 11 per cent of maternal deaths. And the risks do not end there when they are brought home to a community that lacks toilets.

(Source: Lancet report 2014)

In India’s schools, recent reports also showed that 22 per cent did not have appropriate toilets for girls, 58 per cent of preschools had no toilet at all and 56 per cent of preschools had no water on the premises.

(Source: Rapid survey on children 2013-14)

Less than 50 per cent of the population has access to safely managed drinking water (located on premises, available when needed and free of contamination). Chemical contamination of water, mainly through fluoride and arsenic, is present in 1.96 million dwellings.  Moreover, two-thirds of India’s 718 districts are affected by extreme water depletion, and the current lack of planning for water safety and security is a major concern.

India has made rapid progress in ending open defecation across the Country. The number of people defecating in open in India has reduced significantly by an estimated 450 million people. However, we all need to ensure sustained use of toilets and hygiene practices by all, at all times.

The solution

Collaboration and convergence are a key feature of our India Country Programme where WASH is positioned as a cross-cutting support contributing towards results in all aspects of a child’s survival, growth and development, notably to prevent malnutrition and preventable diseases, to reduce neonatal mortality, and to improve education outcomes.

We support the Government of India’s flagship programmes, which include the Swachh Bharat Mission, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), WASH in Schools (including preschools called ‘anganwadis’), WASH in health facilities, and district-wide WASH interventions supporting planning and implementation and incorporating behaviour change into state and national guidelines and costed plans.                                     

Pooja Namdev fetches drinking water supplied by the 900W solar panel which fills up a 5000L tank for 27 families in Kalajahi Thakar Vasti in Kanesar village, Khed, Pune.
UNICEF/UN0278901/Katragadda
Pooja Namdev fetches drinking water supplied by the 900W solar panel which fills up a 5000L tank for 27 families in Kalajahi Thakar Vasti in Kanesar village, Khed, Pune.

To support states and districts that are lagging, UNICEF works in 16 states and 192 districts and supports government technically, assists alternative service delivery approaches, and mobilizes public institutions and partners, including the private sector around WASH services. We have started expanding our programme from rural areas to urban areas, where the urban poor are often left out of the sanitation equation.

UNICEF also supports monitoring and evaluation including conducting third-party verification and spot checks to help authenticate the real-time monitoring and information dashboard hosted by the Ministry Jal Shakti.