Fast facts: WASH in conflict

Why water, sanitation and hygiene are critical for children in fragile and conflict-affected areas.

A girl carries a jerry can on her shoulder, Yemen
UNICEF/UN073964/Clarke for UNOCHA
28 August 2019

All children have the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. These resources are as critical to a child’s survival as food, medical care, and protection. However, from Cox’s Bazar to Ukraine to Yemen, protracted crises and conflict are depriving children of these rights.

In fragile and conflict-affected areas, access to safe water is often compromised; infrastructure is damaged or goes into decline, pipelines are in disrepair, and water collection is dangerous. Without access to safe water, children fall ill, schools and hospitals do not function, disease and malnutrition spread.

Increasingly, water insecurity and the decline and destruction of water and sanitation systems are causing social, economic and political instability. This threatens the survival, health and development of children and their communities, as well as peace and development at all levels.

Key facts about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in fragile and conflict affected settings
  1. Those who live in extremely fragile contexts are three times as likely to practice open defecation; four times as likely to lack basic sanitation services and eight times as likely to lack basic drinking water services.
  2. Globally, an estimated 800 million children live in fragile and conflict-affected areas and 1 in 10 live in extremely fragile contexts.
  3. In conflicts, unsafe water can be just as deadly as bullets. On average, children under the age of 15 who are living in conflict are nearly three times more likely to die from diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence.
  4. For younger children, the situation is worse: children under five years old are more than 20 times more likely to die from diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence.
  5. Attacks on water systems directly impact children. When the flow of clean water stops, children are forced to rely on unsafe water, putting them at risk of disease. In conflicts, deliberate and indiscriminate attacks destroy water infrastructure, injure personnel, and cut off the power that keeps water systems running.
A child carries water in a stream, Bangladesh
Bibi Achiya, 10, is a Rohingya refugee living in Bangladesh. "I collect water 2 times in a day, once in the morning at 7 am then in the afternoon 3 pm to 5 pm," he says.

Additional facts about conflict
  1. Among the world’s poorest, 80 per cent will live in fragile and conflict affected states by 2030.
  2. In recent years, more than 120 million people each year have needed urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. There are more crises, affecting more people, and lasting longer today than a decade ago.
  3. 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced, mostly by conflict in 2018. Half were children.
  4. Conflicts are becoming more protracted, the average length of Humanitarian Response Plans (HRPs) has increased from 5.2 years in 2014 to 9.3 years in 2018.


Download the latest UNICEF report on WASH in conflict here.

 The report presents examples which demonstrate how WASH services can be planned, financed and delivered to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen the vulnerability of children and their communities on a global scale. The report lays out a framework for WASH sector resilience that can be replicated and scaled up.

Download multimedia assets here.



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Yemi Lufadeju UNICEF New York, +1917 213 4034,