Fast facts: Water, sanitation and hygiene in conflict

For children affected by conflict, WASH is a matter of life and death

A girl carries a jerry can on her shoulder, Yemen
UNICEF/UN073964/Clarke for UNOCHA
03 November 2023

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 the State of Palestine to Ukraine, to Yemen and beyond, protracted crises and conflict are depriving children of these rights. 

In fragile contexts and areas affected by conflict, 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. More than 400 million children are living in areas affected by conflict. 
  2. 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. 
  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 diarrhoeal diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence. 
  5. Those who live in fragile contexts are twice as likely to lack safely managed drinking water and basic hygiene.
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
  • Among the world’s poorest, 59 per cent will live in fragile and conflict affected states by 2030. 
  • Global humanitarian needs are at record levels with 362 million people in need.  
  • In 2022, 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced, mostly by conflict: 40 per cent were children. 
  • Humanitarian crises are becoming more frequent, complex and persistent, affecting more children than ever before.   


Originally published on August 28, 2019 and last updated November 3, 2023.