WASH: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Providing safe water to children around the region

Kids washing hands outdoors


The dusk of 2015 marked the end of the MDGs era where the world celebrated successes at many fronts of the international development agenda. The same did not hold true in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where 10 and 8 countries failed to achieve the sanitation and drinking water MDGs respectively leaving behind nearly 30 million children without access to improved sanitation facilities and improved drinking water sources. The situation of children in countries that achieved respective WASH MDGs should not be misperceived as better since large disparities exist across these by classification, wealth quintile and so forth. The situation is further exacerbated by the protracted conflicts across the region that gave rise to pressing WASH humanitarian needs for about 56 million people, over 20 million of whom children.

The adoption of the SDGs raised the bar higher and compounded the already complex situation in MENA. The transformational change brought about by adoption of the SDG agenda reduced coverage levels across the region. The dawn of the SDGs era was marked by over 35 million children lacking access to safely managed drinking water services, over 1.25 million children using untreated water for drinking purposes, over 100 million children lacking access to safely managed sanitation services, over 4 million children lacking access to hygiene facilities. Disparities are quite significant across the region where rural children lack access to safely managed drinking water or sanitation services, rural children are twice more likely to only have access to unimproved drinking water sources compared to urban children, It’s nearly only rural children whom drink untreated surface water, rural children are nearly twice more likely to only have access to unimproved sanitation facilities compared to urban children, and It’s nearly only rural children whom defecate in the open. Moreover, the region is witnessing a significant increase in the number of children affected by humanitarian situations.

While detailed information on the situation of WASH in schools is not available, studies in 8 countries in MENA demonstrated that school children are deprived of equitable and adequate WASH facilities meeting minimum standards in more than 50% of the schools. Sub-optimal school WASH facilities negatively impacts the school learning environment and evidence suggest it contributes to school drop-outs, especially among girls, and reduces retention rates. Though detailed information isn’t available, water and sanitation facilities at healthcare facilities are far from optimal, hence, poor Infection prevention and control, which highly impacts children and women.

MENA is the most water scarce region of the world. The region is home to about 6% of world’s population but has access to measly 2% of the world’s renewable fresh water with 12 of the world’s most water scarce countries. The average water availability per person in the region amounts to as little as 1,200 m3/person/year, around six times less than the worldwide average of 7,000 m3/person/year. Due to burgeoning population, unsustainable water management and use, and rapid economic growth, the per capita water availability is expected to reduce to alarming levels in the coming decades.  By the year 2050, two-thirds of MENA countries could have less than 200 m3 of renewable water resources per capita per year, which translates to less than a lifeline quantity of drinking water. In other words, persistence of the current economic model will compromise future generations.

Sub-optimal WASH services continue to be an impeding factors for the children in MENA to reach their full development potential. Furthermore and as the natural caretakers of their respective households, the brunt of the sub-optimal WASH conditions in MENA continues to be unduly borne by women and girls.


We believe child rights are absolute; child rights are the same irrespective of where and who they are. We believe every child should have adequate drinking water for meeting their daily needs, should have access to an adequate sanitation facility, should have access to adequate hygiene facilities, should have access to adequate WASH facilities at school, and should have access to adequate WASH facilities at healthcare facilities.

The SDGs place a hefty responsibility over UNICEF’s shoulders as given by SDG Goals 6.1 and 6.2; By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, and by 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

Realizing that child WASH rights are part of a broader parcel of autocatalytic human rights that can become nodes of a virtues cycle leading to successes at multiple fronts or can become nodes of a vicious cycle leading to deterioration, MENA RO explores every opportunity for integration between the various sections. It is against that backdrop that WASH works closely with sections such as Health and Nutrition, Education, Child Protection, ADAP and others.

We focus on systems, rather than isolated WASH projects, to improve, and where necessary transform, WASH policies, service delivery, equity and equality. Capitalizing on our strong relationships with governments, we influence policies, leverage funds and expertise for better coverage, and generate evidence and support innovative pilots for shaping vital policy reforms and improve budgetary allocations.

For example, through the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Global Partnership, we continue networking to enrol more MENA region states as full members. Regular SWA meetings serve as a good platform where we present generated evidence and advocate for commitments for better budgetary allocations and improved coverage. We also use this important forum for cross-fertilization among member states sharing best practices, advancements and the like.

In close collaboration with Health and Nutrition, we continue working on systems strengthening and service delivery for ensuring that benefits extend beyond meeting WASH targets to laying the foundation for eradicating malnutrition and WASH-related diseases in addition to infection prevention and control. In the same vein, we work closely with Education at the WASH in schools front on developing standards, service delivery and sustainability.

We, most recently, joined a regional platform that aims at examining opportunities for conservation and management of water resources as a mean of addressing water scarcity. UNICEF’s role will, essentially, be advocating for equitable allocations among the competing sectors in order to safeguard the child’s right to drinking water.

In emergency contexts, UNICEF continues to accord humanitarian WASH emergency response top priority, particularly in high severity areas. At the same time, it explores every opportunity to simultaneously pursue the humanitarian-development continuum for more durable results. We also ensure our responsibilities as a WASH Cluster Lead Agency are fully met at national and sub-national levels for better coordination, advancing a predictable response and optimizing utilization of resources. We also work with national governments on strengthening the resilience of service providers against shocks.