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.