Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

We work with governments and partners to ensure that every child in South Asia has access to clean water, basic toilets and practices good hygiene behaviors.

Boy washing his hand
UNICEF ROSA/2016/Pirozzi


Globally, we have seen remarkable improvements in billions of people gaining access to water and sanitation services and improving hygiene practices. The past decade alone saw greater government commitments and increased investment for improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Despite this substantial progress, much remains to be done. The majority of the world’s open defecators (more than 600 million) live in South Asia. Millions have limited access to safe water services and practice poor hygiene behaviours, which are the leading causes of child mortality and morbidity. These further contribute to undernutrition and stunting and act as barriers to quality education for girls and boys in the region.

  • In South Asia, the proportion of people practicing open defecation fell from 65 percent to 34 percent with India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan achieving more than a 30 percent reduction in open defecation. However, despite the great progress, 610 million people in South Asia still practice open defecation (over 60% of the global burden).
  • In South Asia, access to improved water increased from 73 percent to 93 percent since 1990. However, over 134 million people still do not have access to improved drinking water. It is currently estimated that in South Asia between 68 to 84 percent of water sources are contaminated.
  • Poor drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools, as well as inappropriate hygiene behaviours among children, is contributing to the reduction of quality of education in primary and secondary schools all across the South Asian region. This, together with poor menstrual hygiene management among young girls in school, is one of the causes of school absenteeism and drop-off.
  • Inadequate conditions of drinking water and sanitation facilities and inappropriate hygiene practices among children under the age of five and their caregivers also reduce the quality of Early Childhood Development in many countries of the region
  • Poor conditions of drinking water and sanitation services in health care facilities and inappropriate hygiene practices among health personnel and patients reduce the quality of healthcare and represent some of the causes of high newborn and mothers’ mortality and morbidity rates in several countries in the region.
  • South Asia is highly vulnerable to both natural- and man-made disasters. Every year, natural hazards like floods, cyclones, droughts, and earthquakes displace and cause suffering to millions of people especially children and the most vulnerable groups. Inadequate drinking water, sanitation facilities, and poor hygiene practices worsen the situation for the disaster-affected population, causing an increase in water-borne diseases and slowing the recuperation of the population affected by the crises.   


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has set an ambitious vision to achieve universal access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene in homes, healthcare facilities, schools, and institutions, defining a higher level of service while prioritising the poorest and most vulnerable. 

UNICEF’s strategy for WASH (2016 to 2030) and Strategic Plan (2018 to 2022) seek to ensure that every child lives in a clean and safe environment, gains access to basic sanitation and safe drinking water in early childhood development centres, schools, health centres and in humanitarian situations.

Given the scale of the open defecation problem in South Asia and its negative impact on children’s life, UNICEF focuses on reducing open defecation and increasing access to basic sanitation. 'Handwashing with soap' is linked and critical to key regional results like stunting and newborn health, therefore, handwashing is a core part of our work.

UNICEF works with Country Offices and supports governments and partners at the regional and national level to make sure that all schools, early childhood development centres and health facilities have minimum standard water and sanitation facilities. We encourage children to practice hygienic behaviour such as washing hands with soap at key moments and ensure schools manage proper menstrual hygiene for girls. Similarly, we also promote the practice of basic hygienic behaviours both by health personnel and patients.

UNICEF works, as part of its global mandate, to facilitate a proper WASH response to the emergencies (natural or man-made disasters) in South Asian countries. We ensure that the affected population receives drinking water and sanitation facilities as per international standards, and practices hygienic behaviour. This reduces the chances of water-borne diseases, both in the affected communities and in internal displaced or refugee camps. 


These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.