Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Realizing the benefits of safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene

WASH programme cover photo
UNICEF Myanmar/2018/Nyan Zay Htet

The challenge

Safe water, basic toilets and good hygiene are essential to child survival and development. A lack of these puts the lives of many children in Myanmar at risk. 

Though there have been improvements in recent years, Myanmar struggles to provide basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, especially to areas affected by extreme poverty, conflict and natural disasters.

Evidence also suggests that 50 per cent of schools and over half of health facilities significantly lack WASH services and the systems to effectively track them.

25 per cent of children (over 4 million) live in households that do not use improved toilet facilities. 

Inadequate facilities in schools contribute to lower attendance and achievement. Health facilities that lack proper sanitation infrastructure and training on infection struggle to provide quality services. 

The lack of basic WASH facilities hampers Myanmar’s effort to reduce child and maternal mortality and illness; it also impedes efforts to reduce stunting which affects 32 per cent of children in rural areas and 20 per cent in urban centres. Women and girls face extra challenges, especially without private facilities during their periods.

Though rural areas are most affected, Myanmar’s fast-growing urban centres — magnets for migration — are also struggling to match the needs for water and sanitation.

UNICEF Myanmar/2018/Nyan Zay Htet

In 2018 more than 800,000 people were in need of humanitarian support, including water and sanitation.

Natural disasters and ongoing conflicts in Myanmar are resulting in many people being displaced and without access to adequate facilities. Children, women, older persons and people with disabilities suffer more without appropriate facilities during crises. Lack of knowledge about protecting oneself from the spread of disease also hampers people’s ability to combat health threats. 

Myanmar faces many challenges in order to achieve national targets for WASH in line with the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. UNICEF is supporting the Government as it works to achieve significantly more public investment to build sustainable WASH systems nationally, including in areas that are hard-to-reach.

The solution

UNICEF is one of the leading development partners in supporting the Government’s goals to significantly scale up the WASH arena. 

Building the right foundations is key. UNICEF places strong emphasis on supporting the enabling environment – national policies, capacities, and institutional and financial frameworks – that can ensure results at scale.  An important step has emerged with the development of the Myanmar National WASH strategy for 2016 – 2030, with the support of UNICEF. The strategy outlines key WASH actions in rural areas, schools, health-care facilities and in emergencies, and sets targets for a major rise in the quality and quantity of facilities country-wide. 

UNICEF’s current country programme prioritises provision for the most vulnerable children and women, especially in schools and health centres, and supporting enhanced capacity for national planning, budgeting, coordination and monitoring to achieve long-term, sustainable WASH solutions at national and regional levels. Removing bottlenecks is also key in regulations, planning and coordination between different actors.

We support the Government to find innovative solutions to secure water supplies, especially in challenging locations, build technical capacity for WASH stakeholders, and promote good hygiene practices in schools and health facilities. 

Achieving sustainable national solutions at the scale needed over coming years will be highly complex, and UNICEF is committed to continuing to support the Government with the policy, technology, research and capacity-building inputs that will be required.

UNICEF Myanmar/2017/Khine Zar Mon

Meanwhile, community-managed household water-metering systems that are cost effective are bringing life-saving water on tap to many homes, improving daily lives, and the health and safety of women and girls, who are more vulnerable without such facilities. 

In 2018, a total of 110,000 people gained access to basic water supply facilities through the construction of community managed household water connections.

Schools also saw improvement in 2018, with children gaining access to basic WASH facilities that raise their chances of staying in the education system. In 2018, more than 200 villages became open defecation-free (ODF) through which 151,018 people are now living in clean environments.

UNICEF will continue to advocate for increased investments in the national WASH sector as well as provide essential supports across Government sectors, together with partners. Our strong relationships with key Government departments will continue to ensure that the needs of the especially vulnerable — children, women and those with disabilities — are at the forefront of national WASH planning and initiatives on the ground.