Building access to clean water in support of Sustainable Development Goal 6
UNICEF’s construction initiatives are solving some of the most testing development and humanitarian water challenges.
Worldwide, 844 million people lack access to drinking water, and 2.3 billion do not have access to latrines or other basic sanitation facilities. Contaminated water and poor sanitation are among the leading causes of death for children under 5. Without access to clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene facilities, children face an increased risk of preventable diseases, malnutrition and other critical health issues.
Through targeted water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) construction projects, UNICEF works to bring clean water, essential sanitation and hygiene facilities to homes, schools and health centres so that children can grow and learn in a safe environment. Recently, UNICEF has been building increasingly complex WASH projects.
UNICEF’s construction initiatives directly support Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, working towards ensuring that all children have access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation facilities.
Building resilience in South Sudan’s water supply
Conflict in South Sudan began in 2013 and has inflicted extensive damage to the country’s water infrastructure. By 2017, an estimated 5.1 million people in South Sudan did not have consistent access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Lack of access to clean water contributed to the acute malnutrition suffered by an estimated 1.1 million children in South Sudan at the time.
UNICEF has been supporting numerous projects to rehabilitate water treatment infrastructure in the country. One such project is the Lologo water treatment plant in the capital city of Juba, supported by the Government of Germany through the KfW Development Bank. This project draws water from the Nile River, purifies it and pumps it across the city, including to camps hosting internally displaced persons affected by conflict.
UNICEF is currently training technical staff and distributors as a part of the handover process to local authorities. The pipeline will supply 4.6 million litres of water per day, pumping water to three large reservoirs which house up to 300,000 litres each. This infrastructure will supply clean drinking water to over 100,000 people, including internally displaced persons affected by the conflict in South Sudan.
UNICEF continues to support the development of safe water infrastructure across South Sudan. In 2021, UNICEF helped drill boreholes at 87 schools, providing 43,500 children access to safe water.
Bringing drinking water to schools, health centres and communities
In the Central African Republic, progress towards SDG 6 has been hindered due to conflict that has been ongoing since 2013. The conflict has led to the breakdown or destruction of water treatment works, pollution of wells and increased risks in accessing water points. The country’s drinking water coverage rate is very low at 37 per cent. In 2021, 2.5 million people did not have access to basic water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) – an 8 per cent increase compared to 2020.
Between 2018 and 2021, UNICEF built latrines and solar-driven water supply systems in 63 schools and 17 health centres. UNICEF also rehabilitated 225 drinking water points and constructed 60 new points. The combined projects provide more than 138,000 children access clean water and sanitation.
UNICEF is also driving global innovation in WASH solutions. Read about our innovations in sustainable WASH facilities in China or our hand-washing stations in Ecuador.
Achieving SDG 6 requires complex construction projects
UNICEF is now undertaking increasingly complex projects to resolve some of the most intractable development and humanitarian water challenges.
Iraq faces significant water scarcity challenges, affecting peace and security throughout the region. The country is affected by climate change-induced drought, and water scarcity is exacerbated by ongoing conflict. Due to falling oil prices in the period prior to the project, the Government experienced significant challenges sustaining funds for the operation and maintenance of water treatment infrastructure. Many water treatment facilities are aged, degraded or eroded, and, as a result, the water produced is not safe to drink. Fourteen per cent of rural households do not have access to drinking water and basic sanitation.
UNICEF is working in Iraq to increase access to safe water for internally displaced persons returning to their communities. UNICEF designed and constructed a modern filter system at the Al-Qa’qa’ water treatment plant. This highly complex modernization project included excavation, construction and electrical and mechanical work to install and operationalize the filtering system. The plant serves 300 primary and secondary schools, the main hospital and four primary health care centres.
Completed in 2021, this project will provide access to clean water for over 450,000 people.
Expanding access to clean drinking water for nearly 900,000 people in Venezuela
Although Venezuela ranks as one of the world’s top 15 countries in renewable freshwater resources, the ongoing economic crisis has severely disrupted continuous access to clean water and basic sanitation for nearly 8 out of 10 Venezuelans. Even with government price controls, a bottle of water costs around US$3. But with minimum wage at approximately US$8 per month, clean drinking water is out of reach for many.
In a 2020 project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UNICEF coordinated multiple stakeholders – including the Ministry of Water, the Hidrolago water authority, local community leaders and private sector companies – to work together towards improving access to clean drinking water for some of the 867,965 people (approximately 300,000 of whom are under 19 years old).
This large-scale project, valued at over US$39 million, involved rehabilitation of the Wüimpala water treatment plant in Zulia State (see video below). The production capacity and water quality of the treatment plant had significantly deteriorated over recent years. As a result, the water supply to communities was untreated and sometimes intermittent or unavailable for more than a month. UNICEF provided technical expertise in installing an advanced treatment and purification process, including a chlorine dosing system, water filtration valves and flocculation (a water treatment process in which small particles form larger flocs to be removed from the water).
Thanks to this project, the local population worries less about the risks of contaminated water or about spending a sizable portion of their monthly income on clean water.
UNICEF’s complex WASH projects work to ensure that all children have access to safe and clean water, even in very challenging circumstances.