Health and Nutrition

Child Health and Nutrition


Addressing Low Coverage of Sanitation and Hygiene

©UNICEFNamibia/2010/Leitago /Narib

Elimination of Open Defecation in Namibia.

Children under five, adolescents and young people, and families.

Namibia has one of the lowest sanitation coverage in Eastern and Southern Africa. Nationally, only 33 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation with significantly lower per cent (14 per cent) of rural population having improved sanitation access. This figure concerns around 1.4 million people living in rural areas and in informal settlements in urban areas do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. Levels of sanitation in the northern regions are much lower than the national average with Ohangwena 5 per cent, Caprivi 9 per cent, Kavango 12 per cent, Omusati 15 per cent and Kunene 19 per cent.  

According to a 2009 Ministry of Education (MoE) report, approximately 23 per cent of the total 1,641 schools do not have toilets and many new sanitation facilities have to be built to clear the backlog in schools. In addition, there are many challenges for school sanitation as need for rehabilitation of existing facilities; aligning number of boys/girls per toilet according to the national standards; ensuring separate toilet facilities for boys and girls; providing hand-washing facilities with water and soap; and setting up a sanitation facility cleaning system.

Lack of improved sanitation facilities, poor knowledge and low practice of basic hygiene or proper environmental sanitation behaviours combined with the health challenges associated with high prevalence of HIV are manifested in increasingly high levels of diarrhoeal-related mortality and morbidity. Diarrhoea is the third most common cause for hospital attendance and the second highest cause for paediatric admissions.   

The situation for sanitation remains of considerable concern, and represents a considerable challenge to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, which has been mandated to coordinate sanitation issues across the country. The same urban weakening of suitable standards is occurring from a much lower benchmark, with just 57 per cent of the urban population having an improved facility by 2010, and one in five people in urban areas (19 per cent and growing) practicing open defecation. This is a substantial threat to child and community health standards, especially as it represents a growing proportion of a growing population.  Over the same period, there has been only a small increase in improved sanitation across rural populations such that, by 2010, 72 per cent of that population still practiced open defecation.  

The national rate of open defecation was 52 per cent in 2010, exceeded across Eastern and Southern African countries only by Somalia (53 per cent).  This also needs to be viewed within the context of health risks associated with seasonal flooding and to the contamination of water supplies, and poor hand-washing practices following toilet usage estimated to be around 75-80 per cent.  Namibia’s performance in this regard is alarming by any standard.

By the end of 2018, per cent of population practicing open defecation decreased from current 52% to 25%

Indicator: % of population practicing open defecation

Indicator: % of rural population with access to improved sanitation facilities

Indicator: % of urban population with access to improved sanitation facilities

Indicator: % of schools with handwashing facilities

Indicator: No. of regions which implemented community led total sanitation (CLTS) strategy

Indicator: No. of communities achieved open defecation free (ODF) status 

UNICEF in Action 

Young children pay the price for poor sanitation. When they drink contaminated water, they get sick and then quickly malnourished.  In Namibia, close to a fifth of children under 5 suffer from diarrohea and repeated episodes of diarrohea contribute to the country’s high levels of childhood stunting. Namibia faces a crisis, with the lowest levels of sanitation coverage and of the highest levels of open defecation in southern Africa.

Ending open defecation is essential for human development. It can decrease visits to health facilities, child deaths and missed school days. This is why UNICEF and its partners aim to reduce open defecation in Namibia by 25 per cent by 2018.





Key Facts


 Email this article

unite for children