Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

In West and Central Africa, we help provide water, sanitation and hygiene skills to the poorest communities, schools, health facilities – including in emergencies.

Water splashes as children fill jerrycans at an outdoor tap


Clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices are essential for the survival and development of children. In West and Central Africa, however, these basics of life are still not at hand’s reach for many children and families.

West and Central Africa is the only region with an increasing number of people who practice open defecation – one of the most unsanitary hygiene practices where people use the bush, stream, local river or outside area as a toilet. Progress toward increasing access to improved sanitation has been very limited in the region.

Sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene in health centres and schools also remains a challenge. In the region, less than 50 per cent of schools have access to water and less than 40 per cent have access to adequate sanitation. Water, sanitation and hygiene services in healthcare facilities are also limited.

In communities across the region, more than a third of all people still do not have access to safe water, and millions drink untreated and potentially contaminated water that can give rise to diarrhoea, a major child killer, and cholera.


Women and young girls are primarily responsible for collecting water in most households without drinking water on their premises. This means that a lot of their time is taken away from other important activities such as going to school. Collecting water in public places far away from home also exposes girls and women to the risk of sexual violence.

The heavy burden of conflicts, epidemic risk, chronic malnutrition, drought and floods in West and Central Africa are main reasons why millions of affected people need emergency water and sanitation support.

Climate change, rapid population growth, weak governance and gender inequalities all add to the vulnerabilities that millions of children and families experience on a daily basis.


Every child should live in a predictable, safe and clean environment. This is how we make it happen in West and Central Africa.



Safe drinking water is the foundation of health and development. UNICEF supports countries to increase access to water and manage water sources in the poorest and most vulnerable communities.



Investing in latrines and ending open defecation is more than just about health. It is also about providing people with dignity and safety. UNICEF partners with governments and others in community-led initiatives to put a stop to open defecation. This is done by changing social behaviour and building basic and well-managed sanitation systems in poor communities.



People in crisis need access to WASH services to prevent loss of life to disease outbreaks. UNICEF supports countries to provide a coordinated response to water, sanitation and hygiene in humanitarian settings.



Because they are still growing, children are at greatest risk of injury, disability and death caused by the impacts of climate change. UNICEF works with partners to build climate-resilient and risk-sensitive social services that protect children from the worst impacts of climate change.