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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Water Supply

© UNICEF/HQ07-1016/Olivier Asselin
A new school handpump in south-western Senegal.

Improving access to water – or “household water security” – is a key part of UNICEF efforts in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector. UNICEF country offices support a variety of programmes with the goal of permanently improving families’ access to safe and affordable water sources at reasonable distances from the home.

In the area of water much progress has been made and in 2012 the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) announced that the world had already met the MDG water target in 2010. However, in 2015 there are still 663 million people who use unimproved and usually unsafe water sources, and there are significant inequities in access across regions and within countries. All over the developing world, women and girls spend hours every day on the drudgery of hauling water for their families from distant sources; and in urban slums, many poor people are forced to pay exorbitant prices for water from vendors. Water from these sources is often contaminated, and rarely enough to meet the needs of households..

Drinking-water is considered safe if it meets certain microbiological and chemical standards. To evaluate the quality of drinking-water from improved sources, WHO and UNICEF have developed a rapid assessment method, which has already been used for a pilot study in eight countries. On average, compliance was close to 90% for piped water sources, and between 40% and 70% for other improved sources, indicating that even ‘improved’ water sources do not always supply safe water. The quality of water can also deteriorate between the point of collection and the point of use. Consequently, UNICEF supports water quality monitoring programmes and promotes Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) to ensure safe water is consumed within households (see the Water Quality page).  

© UNICEF/HQ07-0896/Georgina Cranston
A girl carrying water home in southern Sudan.

Poor quality water causes disease and death, but not enough water is even more dangerous. Without a sufficient quantity of water basic hygiene is impossible and the result is a host of hygiene-related diseases, notably diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection (ARI), the two greatest killers of children. UNICEF surveys from several countries in sub-Saharan Africa show that for more than a quarter of the population it takes longer than 30 minutes to make one water collection round trip. In such situations, households progressively collect less water and thereby compromise on their daily minimal water consumption, making families – and especially children – highly vulnerable to hygiene-related diseases.  They also incur significant economic losses due to illness and the length of time spent hauling water.

In some areas of the world the availability of safe water is getting worse. Environmental degradation, over-extraction and climate change is further diminishing already scarce freshwater resources. UNICEF is currently assessing the vulnerability of its WASH programmes to climate change and developing appropriate adaptation strategies (see the Environment page).

Sustainability of water supplies is a key challenge, both in terms of water resources and service delivery. It is estimated that 36% of rural water supplies in sub-Saharan Africa are non-operational at any given time. Consequently, UNICEF works in various ways to improve water service sustainability, by strengthening operation and maintenance, supply chains, and relevant policies and institutions. UNICEF programmes also seek to develop groundwater resources in a sustainable and cost-effective way (see the Groundwater Development page).

Water supply is also a key component of the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme, in which UNICEF works with the Carter Center, WHO and other partners in the African countries where the disease remains endemic. Much progress has been made by the programme, and the hope is that transmission of guinea worm can be halted in 2012.




The Rural Water Supply Network

Link to more information on the work of the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) on hand drilled wells. 

The Importance of Quantity

Drinking Water Handbook

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