Global Annual Results Report 2021: Ensuring that every child lives in a safe and clean environment
Goal Area 4: Progress, results achieved and lessons from 2021
UNICEF made very good progress helping to ensure a safe and clean environment for children in their homes, communities and schools. But the gains that have been made are fragile. Worsening humanitarian crises, increasing fragility and the growing impact of climate change and environmental degradation show how UNICEF and its partners are needed more than ever to safeguard the rights of all children wherever they are.
UNICEF set its most ambitious WASH target ever for the 2018–2021 Strategic Plan: to reach 60 million people with water and sanitation services in their communities through direct support. The target was achieved, an exceptional result given the operational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Significant progress was also made in all other UNICEF WASH programming areas including hand-hygiene promotion, WASH in schools and health centres, menstrual hygiene health, the elimination of open defecation and making the shift towards climate resilient WASH systems. In all its programming, UNICEF provides direct support while also working with governments and other partners to strengthen sectoral systems.
In 2021, UNICEF worked in 130 countries with WASH interventions, more than ever before and more than any other agency.
Water security for all
UNICEF launched the ‘Reimagining WASH: Water security for all‘ campaign in 2021 to highlight the growing threat of water scarcity due to climate change, over-abstraction of groundwater, growing competition for freshwater resources, poor water management and the pressures of urbanization. The campaign highlights the scale of the problem – 1.42 billion people, including 450 million children, live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability – and stresses that all actors, from policymakers to field practitioners, must recognize that work in the sector can no longer be ‘business as usual.’
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of hand hygiene to levels never seen before, and UNICEF is using this momentum to build new partnerships, attract new finance streams and strengthen national systems. The Hand Hygiene for All initiative, launched by UNICEF and World Health Organization in 2020 with other key stakeholders, is the fulcrum point for action in this area. UNICEF contributed to media campaigns in 93 programme countries, including on Global Handwashing Day, and to national community-based behaviour change programmes in 106 countries.
UNICEF made inroads on improving gender inclusion across its entire WASH programme in 2021 with the release of the new Gender-Responsive Programming in WASH course, work with partners on highlighting gender awareness at key sectoral events, and promoting innovative approaches including through the Duke University–UNICEF Innovation Accelerator. During the four-year Strategic Plan period, over 58,977 schools were provided with menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) services.
UNICEF helped over 110,000 communities achieve certified open defecation free status from 2018 to 2021 through direct support, and far more through indirect support for strengthened national systems, notably in South Asia where progress has been rapid and substantial. UNICEF is increasingly shifting the focus of its support to safely managed sanitation (the safest and most environmentally friendly standard) through a range of initiatives, including the launch a major new training programme for staff and partners and new guidelines on market-based sanitation programming.
Safe water supply
In addition to reaching almost 70 million people with safe water services through direct support, UNICEF continued its work on strengthening national systems including the development of a sector-wide sustainability check tool in 2021, and the launch of the WASHReg approach with partners to strengthen regulatory frameworks with partners.
UNICEF helps to reduce the risk of disasters and strengthen resilience in the countries where it works, investing more than US$250 million across 150 countries over the 2018-2021 period. In 2021, UNICEF helped strengthen early warning systems in 27 countries, supported the updating of 44 preparedness plans and provided risk-assessment support for 39 key development policy instruments at national, subnational and sectoral levels.
A majority of UNICEF country offices – 51 per cent – now meet organizational benchmarks for implementing risk-informed programming, helping to ensure that risks to children are addressed in programme countries, up from just 16 per cent of offices in 2016. UNICEF expanded its collaboration with the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund, implementing 49 joint projects in 27 countries with sister United Nations entities, including activities focused on empowering women and girls while engaging community leaders, men and boys as key allies.
Engaging adolescents across borders for sustainable peace and development
In areas near the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border, UNICEF supports two initiatives to strengthen mechanisms for cross-border dialogue and collaborative problem-solving by and with adolescents: one funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund and a related project funded by the Government of the United Kingdom. The initiatives have demonstrated that adolescent children can actively participate and lead in creating an environment for peaceful intercommunal coexistence in areas of border conflict. Read the full case study.
Over the four-year Strategic Plan period, UNICEF expanded its engagement in local governance and urban programming in response to increasing inequities within countries and deepening deprivations that affect children in their communities. UNICEF supported urban-specific interventions in over 100 countries globally and has engaged with 3,845 subnational and local governments in rural and urban settings to help make children a priority in local plans and budgets, and to ensure their rights, voices and agency are being taken into account in local decision-making processes and plans.
UNICEF responded to increasing fragility and humanitarian needs in countries around the world with the release of a comprehensive technical note on strengthening resilience through risk-informed decentralization and local governance, and the launch of an online training module on local governance and sustaining peace, developed in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). UNICEF technical assistance and advocacy for the development of the new United Nations Global Urban Monitoring Framework ensured that child-related indicators are included and will be used to assess the situation of children in urban settings.
The climate and environment crisis is a crisis for children, threatening their development and their very existence. In 2021, UNICEF released the Children’s Climate Risk Index, the first global atlas of climate and environmental risk from a child right’s perspective, showing that almost every child is now exposed to at least one climate or environmental shock.
The climate crisis is a crisis for children
UNICEF Children’s Climate Risk Index report that concluded that approximately 1 billion children in 33 countries are at an ‘extremely high risk’ from the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. These countries have amongst the lowest per-capita contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, and yet children in these countries will suffer the greatest impacts.
In light of such evidence, UNICEF continues to make action on climate change and the environment a core focus, through three main programming areas: (1) using the scale and reach of the global UNICEF programme to advocate and support climate-resilient solutions in WASH, health, social protection, education and other sectors (in 81 countries in 2021); (2) working with governments to prioritize children in national climate resilience plans and strategies (in 83 countries in 2021); and (3) supporting young people to become climate and environmental champions (in over 100 countries in 2021).
The COP26 in Glasgow was an opportunity to highlight the climate crisis as a child rights crisis among world leaders and the global public, and to ensure that children are meaningfully involved in all climate negotiations and decisions. UNICEF accredited over 70 children and young people to attend the conference and participate in discussions and processes, and supported a variety of engagement opportunities.
The new UNICEF 2022-2025 Strategic Plan defines how UNICEF will contribute to child-related SDGs over the next four years, defining the pathways to achieve an inclusive recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and, ultimately, the realization of a society in which every child is included and has agency, opportunity and their rights fulfilled.
Most of the programmatic areas of Goal Area 4 from the Strategic Plan, 2018–2021, are incorporated into Goal Area 4 of the new Strategic Plan, including WASH; climate, energy and the environment; and disaster risk reduction. See the report for a description of UNICEF plans and programming priorities in each of these areas over the next four years.
This report highlights the achievements made possible by the generous contributions of softly earmarked thematic funding received from various partners. UNICEF would like to express it's sincere appreciation for these contributions.
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Goal Area 4 of the 2018-2021 UNICEF Strategic Plan encompasses four results areas: (1) WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), (2) disaster risk reduction, resilience strengthening and peacebuilding, (3) urban programming and local governance, and (4) climate, energy and the environment. Good progress was made across all of these areas despite the programming challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the provision of safe water to more than 69 million people over the four-year period and more than 59 million with basic sanitation services.
This 2021 report for Goal Area 4 describes the progress made across all the results areas in 2021 and over the four-year Strategic Plan period. It also describes the programming context and challenges faced by UNICEF and its partners, and provides a perspective on the organizational priorities in each area for the 2022-2025 Strategic Plan period.