Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
Access to safe water and sanitation for everyone is crucial
Children need safe water, basic toilets and good hygiene to survive and thrive.
However, good water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are under threat – not just from the pandemic, but because of the disruption to supply chains, banking and humanitarian access following the military takeover in February 2021.
Since work to improve WASH services began 20 years ago, around 82 per cent of households have access to at least basic drinking water, and 41 per cent are using a safely managed service.
But nine million people—including three million children—still have no access to a basic drinking water service.
- Around one in four schools have a limited or no basic drinking water supply.
- Four in 10 schools have limited or no basic sanitation and hygiene facilities.
- WASH provision is also a challenge at health facilities, adding to the risk of neonatal deaths.
Poverty and the cost of drinking water
- The national poverty rate has soared since the onset of pandemic.
- The current crisis is also a severe threat to health in both urban and rural populations.
- With a 20-litre bottle of water costing between US$ 0.28 and US$ 0.36 the urban poor are finding clean drinking water increasingly hard to afford – households, especially in informal settlements can spend most of their monthly income (between US$6 – US$12 every month) on clean drinking water.
- Displaced families and children in camps in Kachin, Rakhine and northern Shan States can’t access safe water or use banking services that would help them buy bottled water.
WASH and disease
With many people forced to drink and use unsafe water, concern is rising about potential outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
- An estimated 914,000 people need safe WASH services, not just for general health, but to help protect themselves against the spread of COVID-19.
- The current crisis has displaced another 200,000 people, many of them children, who are in desperate need of water, sanitation and hygiene supplies.
WASH and the vulnerable
Conflicts and natural disasters are the biggest threat to the health of children, women, elderly people and those with disabilities.
The most potent threat is not violence, but lack of basic water and hygiene services.
- In fragile countries such as Myanmar, research shows that children under the age of five are 20 times more likely to die due to diarrhoeal diseases, often related to unsafe water, than in violent conflict.
UNICEF is working to maintain the hard-won gains in water, sanitation and hygiene services in Myanmar made during the first year of the pandemic and over the last two decades. However, that progress is now under severe pressure.
So, with our partners, we focus on providing vital water and sanitation support to the most vulnerable; the poorest children in cities, in camps for displaced people, in conflict-affected communities and in hard-to-reach areas, including places now under martial law.
- In urban areas, we are working with partners to distribute safe drinking water, initially to around 50,000 people.
- In rural areas, in places such as Shan State and Magway Region, we are supporting community water supply systems, helping them access vital supplies such as uPVC pipes and solar-powered water systems, and offering technical advice.
- Life-saving water and hygiene essentials have been earmarked for more than 100,000 internally displaced people in camps and conflict-affected communities in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan States.
- In areas newly affected by conflict we and our partners are not only providing vital WASH supplies, but also installing emergency latrines and hand-washing stations.
Vital WASH supplies reached 10,000 displaced people in southeast Myanmar, 10,000 in Chin State, 5,000 in Kayah State and 10,000 in Kayin State in May 2021.
We are mobilizing to reach more than 100,000 internally displaced people in the southeast.
UNICEF’s WASH programme can adjust to rapidly changing needs, but it is also focused on ensuring existing services continue for school and health care facilities.
COVID-19 and WASH
- UNICEF and partners reached 1.5 million people with messages on COVID19 prevention and access to services, while 1.9 million people were reached with critical WASH supplies and services including the installation of 7,500 hand-washing stations nationally.
- Essential humanitarian services, including water and sanitation, have reached 266,000 people.
- About 38 million people have been contacted with Risk Communication and Community Engagement messaging.
Looking ahead, WASH supplies for 500,000 people nationally are ready for distribution. Readiness to respond to the continuing threat posed by COVID-19 is also a priority.
Drawing on our 70 years of experience in Myanmar and our extensive network of partners, we continue to focus on ensuring that life-saving and life-sustaining services reach the most vulnerable, wherever they are.
 Myanmar, Department of Population, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, ‘Provisional Results of 2019 Inter-Censal Survey, 31 August 2020.
 World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools, UNICEF, New York, 2020.