Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
Safe water, toilets and good hygiene keep children alive and healthy.
Growing up in a clean and safe environment is every child’s right. Access to clean water, basic toilets, and good hygiene practices not only keeps children thriving, but also gives them a healthier start in life.
Despite COVID-19 putting the spotlight on the importance of hand hygiene to prevent the spread of disease, three billion people worldwide, including hundreds of millions of school-going children, do not have access to handwashing facilities with soap. People living in rural areas, urban slums, disaster-prone areas and low-income countries are the most vulnerable and the most affected.
- Worldwide, 2.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water.
- More than half of the global population does not have access to safe sanitation.
- Three billion people do not have access to handwashing facilities with soap.
- Still, 673 million people practice open defecation.
The consequences of unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) on children can be deadly. Over 700 children under age 5 die every day of diarrhoeal diseases due to lack of appropriate WASH services. In areas of conflict, children are nearly 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than from the conflict itself.
Explore topics in WASH
When children don’t have access to clean water, it affects their health, nutrition, education and learning abilities, thus impacting many aspects of their lives.
Good hygiene not only allows children to stay healthy and prevent the spread of infectious disease, but also to miss fewer days of school.
WASH and climate change
The effects of climate change and resulting water scarcity can limit children’s ability to grow up healthy and strong.
WASH in emergencies
To prevent public health emergencies, WASH services must be prepared to support children and their communities in times of crisis.
Strengthening WASH systems
Strong national policies, financial systems and monitoring make WASH systems sustainable, resilient and accountable.
WASH in urban areas
Deep and profound inequalities in urban areas often leave the poorest children with little or no access to WASH services.
By 2050, 2.5 billion more people are projected to join urban populations. Access to quality WASH services has not kept pace with this kind of growth: There were more people without basic water and sanitation services in 2017 than there were in 2000.
Many children living in impoverished urban settlements, like slums, are deprived of their rights to drinking water and sanitation. This has serious implications for their survival, growth and development.
Increasing access to WASH services for the marginalized urban poor is an important frontier of UNICEF’s work. Our Global Framework for Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sets our strategic vision for Urban WASH programming across global, regional and country levels.
WASH in schools
Millions of children go to schools with no drinking water, no toilets and no soap for handwashing, making learning difficult – with devastating consequences for their future.
Nearly half of all schools do not have basic hygiene services, with1 in 3 primary schools lacking basic sanitation and water. Children who cannot wash their hands face a greater risk of infection and diarrhoeal disease than those who can, putting them at risk of missing more school days.
UNICEF supports over 100 countries in establishing and rehabilitating WASH facilities in schools. We help governments develop strategies and standards, create or improve monitoring systems to track and report progress, and review budgets and coordination efforts for greater efficiency.
Along with our partners, we advocate to governments, donors and the private sector to improve WASH services in schools, and to facilitate knowledge exchange and learning.
WASH in health-care facilities
WASH in health-care facilities helps reduce the risk of infection and improves prevention and control — crucial during outbreaks like cholera, Ebola, COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
Without water, sanitation and hygiene services, mothers and newborns may not receive the quality of care they need to survive and thrive. When health-care facilities are equipped with safe WASH services, members of the community are more likely to visit them, and health workers are able to model good sanitation and hygiene practices.
Some 1 in 4 health-care facilities do not have basic water services. Around 1 in 5 lack sanitation, and 1 in 6 have no hand hygiene facilities and no soap and no water in toilets.
As of 2019, UNICEF has been working in over 80 countries to improve access to WASH in health-care facilities. Our work focuses on technical assistance to governments for the construction and rehabilitation of WASH infrastructure, as well as on developing national standards, policies and hygiene protocols for WASH in health-care facilities.
In partnership with the World Health Organization, UNICEF works with governments to implement and monitor the Eight Practical Steps to universal access to WASH and the commitments made by governments to implement the Resolution on WASH in health-care facilities.
UNICEF works in over 100 countries to help provide access to clean water and reliable sanitation, and to promote basic hygiene practices in rural and urban areas, including in emergency situations. We achieve better WASH results for children by:
UNICEF promotes community-based handwashing through a variety of media and through campaigns like Global Handwashing Day, which reaches hundreds of millions of people every year. Our people-based approach has helped entire communities eliminate the dangerous practice of open defecation, many of whom reached Open Defecation Free status in 2019.
We work directly with schools and health-care facilities to improve access to basic water, sanitation and handwashing facilities, and to establish protocols for preventing and controlling infections. We support menstrual health and hygiene in schools by constructing private, secure sanitation and washing facilities as well as menstrual pad disposal facilities. We also provide education and support services that help more girls better manage their menstruation cycle.
A significant amount of our work occurs in fragile and emergency settings to help prepare for and respond to humanitarian emergencies. This includes transporting water, ensuring it is purified, and constructing toilets in refugee camps and transit centres. We work to construct water and sanitation facilities that outlast the emergency, while providing clear leadership and accountability in humanitarian response.
Responding to COVID-19
In keeping with our Core Commitments for Children, UNICEF has mobilized teams and resources in a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We procure supplies for infection prevention and control, and work closely with governments to provide guidance to communities, health-care providers and education practitioners.
Increasing focus on sustainability
We are committed to making all WASH programmes sustainable and adaptive to climate change by the end of 2021. In addition to supporting child-inclusive programmes, in 2019, UNICEF constructed and rehabilitated over 1,000 solar-powered water systems to address increasing water scarcity.
We work in close collaboration with governments, the private sector, academia, civil society organizations, and communities to improve systems and practices that fulfil a child's right to water and sanitation.