How construction makes progress on the Sustainable Development Goals
UNICEF’s construction initiatives contribute towards global commitments to children’s right to health, education and a clean and safe environment.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, are 17 interlinked global goals designed as a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future. This vision cannot be achieved without realizing the rights of the child.
UNICEF’s work in construction reflects an investment to create a more equitable, just and sustainable world for children and young people now and for generations to come. UNICEF works with governments, partners and other UN agencies on construction projects that help ensure children’s access to health services, quality education and clean drinking water.
This article highlights examples of how UNICEF’s construction work supports the SDGs – Goals 3, 4 and 6.
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Almost 6 million children under the age of 15 died from preventable causes in 2020, based on estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO).
To reduce preventable child deaths and promote the health and development of all children and adolescents, UNICEF works on construction projects that strengthen national healthcare systems, improve rural health infrastructure, and increase the delivery of childhood vaccines.
Since 2018, UNICEF has been working with the government of Myanmar to construct nine vaccine storage warehouses in Rakhine, Magway, Saggaing, and Yangon regions, in Bago, Kachin and Mon states, and in the Nay Pyi Taw Union Territory. Previously, the government stored vaccines in aging sub-depots throughout the country. These sub-depots had limited cold storage capabilities and were insufficient to store the quantities of vaccines required to serve the population.
Each project involves the construction of three- or four-storey vaccine cold-room stores for routine childhood vaccines and stockpiled doses for emergency outbreak response which strengthens access to essential healthcare and immunization programmes. Every warehouse serves between 200,000 and 5 million children. Across the country, and particularly in rural areas, the new storage facilities are strengthening access to essential healthcare and immunization programmes.
The construction projects reflect UNICEF’s commitment to environmental and social sustainability. For example, a “green building” approach includes the installation of renewable solar power energy for lighting. Communities are engaged and benefit economically from the use of locally available building materials and local labour.
Read more about how UNICEF supports Goal 13 through sustainable construction.
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Around the world, there is a learning crisis, with 6 out of 10 children suffering from learning poverty. Access to quality education and lifelong learning is uneven. Through school construction projects, UNICEF focuses on equity and inclusion to provide all children – no matter who they are or where they live – with quality learning opportunities. In Syria, around 2.4 million children are out of school – a direct result of more than a decade of conflict. The staggering number represents nearly half of the country’s school-aged children. One in three schools inside Syria can no longer be used because they were destroyed, damaged or are being used for military purposes. Children who are able to attend school often learn in overcrowded classrooms, and in buildings with insufficient water and sanitation facilities, electricity, heating or ventilation.
When children are not able to attend school, early marriages increase, more children are recruited into militias, sexual exploitation of girls and young women rises, teenage pregnancies become more common and child labour grows.
Through refurbishing schools damaged by disasters or conflicts, UNICEF is helping to ensure children can continue to access learning opportunities. Between 2020 and 2021, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Education to rebuild 139 schools across Syria. UNICEF helped to rehabilitate classrooms and restore or build new gender-sensitive toilets and drinking water stations. This construction project has provided a safe space for 72,000 children access to quality learning facilities.
Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Worldwide, 844 million people lack even a basic source of drinking water and 2.3 billion do not have access to basic sanitation facilities like latrines. Contaminated water and poor sanitation are among the leading causes of death for children under 5. Without access to clean water and proper sanitation and hygiene facilities, children face an increased direct risk of preventable diseases and suffer malnutrition, stunting and other critical health issues.
The consequences of lack of access to water can further lead to loss of livelihoods and access to food, triggering migration, displacement and conflicts that impact children negatively. Water scarcity and the increased efforts needed to obtain water and preserve livelihoods impact school attendance and the outlook for girls in particular.
Through targeted WASH construction projects, UNICEF works to bring clean water and essential sanitation and hygiene facilities to homes, schools and health centres so that children can grow and learn in a safe environment. More recently, UNICEF has been taking on increasingly complex WASH projects. For example, UNICEF is working with the Palestinian Water Authority on the expansion of the seawater desalination plant in the Gaza Strip to bring reliable, clean drinking water to Gaza.
Water resources have long been critically scarce in the Gaza Strip. In 2017, 95 per cent of the water extracted from the coastal aquifer was considered unfit for human consumption. Over-extraction of water from the aquifer allowed seawater from the Mediterranean to seep into it, along with sewage and chemicals. Families were depending on water that they bought from private vendors at a high cost and without quality control, or on imported water.
The project built a seawater desalination plant to provide 175,000 people with adequate safe water in the governates of Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The desalination of seawater from the Mediterranean is essential to curb over-extraction of groundwater from the coastal aquifer. UNICEF is also constructing a solar field to reduce power consumption and fuel use, which minimises the environmental pollution caused by running the existing pumps and standby electric generators, and also allows the facility to operate during the area’s frequent power outages.
UNICEF’s complex WASH projects ensure that all children have access to safe and clean water, even in very challenging circumstances.