Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in emergencies
Serving children at risk and in times of crisis.
The risk of human rights violations, violence and displacement to children in humanitarian emergencies is extreme. On top of it all, water and sanitation systems are often vulnerable to attack during conflict. With no potable water or adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, children — especially those already suffering from malnutrition and weakened immune systems — become even more susceptible to water-borne diseases.
To prevent the outbreak of a public health emergency, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services must be prepared to support children and their communities in times of crisis – including during armed conflict and other fragile contexts.
UNICEF's approach to WASH in emergencies focuses on preparedness in conflict and natural disaster risks. We provide emergency WASH services in over 60 countries, including those affected by armed conflict, migration crises, natural disasters, and diseases like cholera, Ebola and COVID-19.
UNICEF saves lives in fragile contexts by trucking water, treating piped water, repairing broken water supply and sanitation systems, drilling wells, building temporary latrines, providing essential hygiene items and delivering hygiene messages.
We help control and prevent infection in homes, schools, health-care facilities and public spaces by collaborating with other sectors and local partners to ensure the needs of even the hardest-to-reach families are met.
Linking humanitarian and development work is an important part of how we help maintain peace in conflict-prone settings. UNICEF provides water and sanitation services to both refugee and host communities.
We also work to strengthen the WASH sector overall. By advocating for tariffs that help recover the costs of infrastructure, or by implementing public-private partnerships, we are fortifying communities to respond faster to crisis. We also work with governments and other humanitarian agencies to train the private sector, utility operators and communities in building and maintaining resilient WASH infrastructure during and before emergencies.
After a disaster
UNICEF leads the humanitarian community in identifying the needs of populations recovering from disaster. We work to assess physical damages, economic loss and the cost of recovery in the wake of natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies, and partner with governments to help plan for recovery, redevelopment and capacity-building in the WASH sector.
UNICEF and partners support countries to create policies and programmes that serve children living in changing environments. In over 50 countries, we help governments remove bottlenecks that constrain progress in the WASH sector. UNICEF also hosts the Global WASH Cluster, a partnership of 77 organizations that helps countries respond in emergencies.