We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene


© UNICEF/UN013080/Sharma
Team Swachh messaging, signage and banners on display during the opening day of ICC T20 World Cup 2016 date 09-03-2016. In 2015, the ICC Cricket for Good and UNICEF launched a five-year global partnership. This visionary collaboration aims to build a social movement for sanitation and toilet use, thereby leading to an open-defecation free India.

Sanitation is essential to the survival and development of children. Currently, there are 2.4 billion people worldwide who do not use improved sanitation (a facility that safely separates human waste from human contact). 946 million people go in the open, known as “open defecation”. While progress has been made to improve access to sanitation in some parts of the world, millions of children in poor and rural areas have been left behind.

Key sanitation facts:

  • 1 in 3 people don’t use improved sanitation.
  • 1 in 7 people practice open defecation.
  • Since 1990, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation.
  • 5 countries, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, account for 75% of open defecation.
  • We must double our current efforts in order to end open defecation by 2030.

Ending open defecation
Open defecation is when people go out in fields, , forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using a toilet. It is incredibly dangerous, as contact with human waste can cause diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, diarrhea, worm infestation and under nutrition. Every day, over 800 children under five die from diarrhea-related diseases.

Currently, 1 in 7 people, or 946 million people, practice open defecation. Of those who do, 9 out of 10 live in rural areas. Globally, India has the largest number of people still defecating in the open: more than 564 million.

Not just toilets, but behavior
One of the biggest challenges to ending open defecation is not just providing clean and safe toilets, but changing the behavior of entire communities. A large part of UNICEF’s work in ending open defecation is to generate awareness, share information and to spur behavior change in an effort to bridge the gap between building toilets and their proper use.

What is sanitation?
Sanitation is a comprehensive term and it means more than just toilets. Sanitation can be understood as interventions that reduce human exposure to diseases by providing a clean environment in which to live. It involves both behaviors and facilities, which work together to form a hygienic environment.

UNICEF’s work
UNICEF is working in countries around the world to improve sanitation and to advocate for government attention and funding to key sanitation issues. We do this by creating a framework (known as a programme model) and supporting governments and partners to implement the sanitation framework in their country.

UNICEF is also leading innovative solutions for sanitation. This involves improving sanitation technology, ensuring basic toilets are affordable, accessible and that they meet criteria for safety, effectiveness, sustainability, environmental impact and child-friendliness.

UNICEF fosters community-based approaches for sanitation, to empower communities to end open defecation themselves. Communities are encouraged to carry out an analysis of existing defecation patterns and threats, and to use local resources to build low-cost household toilets and ultimately eliminate the practice of open defecation. This approach is often referred to as Community Approaches Total Sanitation (CATS) and has been particularly successful in Cambodia and Zambia.

World Toilet Day is held on the 19th of November every year.

Supporting intersectoral approaches: Maximum child survival and development benefits are realized when hygiene, sanitation and water programmes are coordinated or integrated with other sectoral programmes including education, health and nutrition.

UNICEF WASH in Schools

Improving Nutrition Outcomes with Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Soap, Toilets and Taps 

2017 UNICEF Field Notes on Community Approaches to Total Sanitation – Learning from five country programmes




New enhanced search