Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene reduces stunting, improves education quality and learning outcomes, and is essential for a child’s health and well-being.

Students wash their hands at a newly built handwashing point at the primary school

The challenge

Zambia made moderate progress towards reaching its drinking water supply targets under the Millennium Development Goals over the period 1990-2015, according to the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (2015). But during the same period, the country reportedly made ‘limited or no progress’ towards achieving its sanitation targets.

Poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are the main causes of infections like cholera and diarrhoea, and inadequate WASH continues to be the leading cause of death of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. Poor sanitation results in a 1.3 per cent loss to Zambia’s national Gross Domestic Product annually, according to the World Bank. Girls and women are particularly affected by poor WASH conditions. The drudgery of hauling water leads to loss of productivity and leisure time and the lack of toilets negatively impacts their dignity.  

Zambia’s high rate of child stunting (40 per cent) is in part a result of poor sanitation — research indicates that adequate sanitation can decrease the risk of stunting. In Zambian schools, lack of access to adequate water supply, sanitation and washing facilities negatively affects students and contributes to high dropout rates, especially among girls. With separate toilets for girls and boys, and privacy for menstrual hygiene management, girls are more likely to remain in school, delay pregnancy and marriage, and have stronger employment opportunities. 

Many of these challenges can be overcome through low-cost, high-impact WASH interventions, which promote hygiene and sanitation in the most vulnerable communities. 

Here is a snapshot of the water and sanitation situation in Zambia:

  • 61 per cent of the population use basic drinking water services (86 per cent in urban areas, 44 per cent in rural areas)
  • 31 per cent of the population use a basic sanitation service (49 per cent in urban areas, 19 per cent in rural areas)
  • 15 per cent of the population practices open defecation (1 per cent in urban areas, 25 per cent in rural areas)
  • 14 per cent of the population has access to basic hygiene services, i.e. a handwashing facility with soap and water (26 per cent urban, 5 per cent rural)
  • 21 per cent, 34 per cent and 46 per cent of schools do not have basic drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services (respectively)

The solution

UNICEF Zambia’s WASH programme contributes to improved and equitable access to safe drinking water and the use of adequate sanitation and hygiene practices by children and women in Zambia, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. 

The WASH programme supports children, including adolescent girls and families, with sustained access to safe drinking water, in the adoption of adequate sanitation and hygiene practices and to eliminate open defecation, in line with the Government's Seven National Development Plan, Vision2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. In support of the Government, we also prioritise investments in schools and health facilitates to improve the quality and accessibility of these basic services.

“The UNICEF WASH programme currently works in 68 rural districts across Zambia’s 10 provinces”

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection, the UNICEF WASH programme currently works in 68 rural districts across Zambia’s 10 provinces. The key interventions supported under the programme include the development of WASH sector policy; strategies, plans and standards; capacity building at the national and sub-national levels; improving sector coordination; monitoring and knowledge management; and sustainable and service delivery with a focus on the poor and vulnerable. This includes, among others, routine surveillance mechanisms to monitor rates of open-defecation in rural communities.