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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene


© UNICEF/UN08990/Lynch
Aida Mesquita, 14, and her team make a presentation in front of their fifth grade class. Working in groups and presenting their work in front of the class is a key feature of the child friendly approach to learning at UNICEF-supported Sarlala Basic Education Filial School in Aileu Municipality, Timor-Leste.

Millions of children in poor communities remain without access to water and toilets, despite substantial progress made in other parts of the world.

Massive inequalities exist between those who have access, and those who do not.

  • A third of the global population still does not use improved sanitation.
  • The world’s 48 least developed countries have the lowest levels of access to clean water.
  • 79% of people using unimproved water sources are in rural areas.
  • 7 out of 10 people who do not use improved sanitation live in rural areas, as do 9 out of 10 people who practice open defecation.

Most often it is poor communities, children in rural areas, and children already facing discrimination based on gender and/or ethnicity who experience the most extreme inequity.

Sustainable development is not possible unless we can fulfil all children’s right to water and sanitation.

Equity for women and girls
A lack of access to clean water and basic toilets disproportionately affects women and girls. There are many consequences of this, some with immediate effects and others with long term implications.

In many communities, girls do not attend school because they need to fetch water. Research shows that in 45 developing countries, in 7 out of 10 households, the burden of collecting water falls to women and girls.

Girls are also often unable to attend school as they do not have a safe space to manage their menstrual hygiene.

In some cultures, women and girls who do not have access to a basic toilet wait until after dark and go out in the open. Aside from the discomfort caused by the long wait, this can cause serious illness.

Reducing inequality
UNICEF’s overall objective in the WASH sector is to promote the survival, protection and development of children, and to promote changes in behaviour that are needed to realize the full benefits of water and sanitation services.

One of the core aims of the new Sustainable Development Goals, as agreed upon by the member states of the United Nations in September 2015, is to reduce inequalities.
In order to achieve Goal 6 in this agenda, “access to water and sanitation for all,” we must reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children first.

More resources
Access to safe and clean water and sanitation facilities is a basic right of all people, including people with disabilities, the denial of which can have serious implications on their well-being. Read more on WASH and disability, and see resources on the disability website.



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