Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Clean water, basic sanitation and good hygiene practices are essential for the survival and development of children

school girl drinking water from a tap
UNICEF/UNI000016/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

The Challenge

The current water and sanitation situation in Zimbabwe faces many challenges around capacity, behaviours and  the lack of investment in these sectors during and after the economic crisis of the last decade. Access to clean water is a basic right that is important for the survival of humanity yet it can be one of the hardest resources to attain

Access to safe water and sanitation remains a major issue, particularly in rural areas. Access to adequate improved sanitation lags significantly behind at 35 percent.

Data from the 2012 National Population Census show that 25% of households do not have any type of toilet facility. The availability of proper sanitation facilities is much higher in urban than in rural areas. Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2014 reports that the national open defecation rate is at 31.7 percent.  This, affects rural areas in particular where 44 per cent of the population practices open defecation.

Mother fetching water from an unclean source
UNICEF/UNI000015/Richard Nyamanhindi
Mother fetching water from an unclean source

Solutions and Achievements

Increasing Access to Clean Water

During 2018, UNICEF continued to increase access to water by drilling new boreholes and rehabilitating defunct pipe water schemes and boreholes in rural focus districts with a strong focus on solar power. The urban WASH programme also saw a two-fold increase in water production across 14 small towns alongside rehabilitation of sewer systems also.

Sustainability of water supply systems was strengthened through the development of a national public-private strategic framework. The framework aims to bolster the role of the private sector in the UNICEF also supported pilots to improve monitoring and operations.

UNICEF also supported system strengthening around  monitoring as well as  operation and maintenance using community participation. This included linking community residents in rural areas via SMS to the web-based rural WASH information management system.

Mother carrying a baby on the back while pumping water from a borehole
UNICEF/UNWASH1/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
One of the beneficiaries of UNICEF's rural wash program pumping water from a borehole

Improving Sanitation

The government, with support from UNICEF and other partners, has approved a gender-sensitive Sanitation and Hygiene Policy. The policy aims to create an open defecation free Zimbabwe by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

To achieve this, the demand-led Sanitation Focused Participatory Health and Hygiene Education (SafPHHE) has been adopted and is being implemented in the 45 UNICEF-supported rural districts.

Hygiene Promotion

Hygiene promotion remained a key component of the UNICEF WASH programme. Under the Participatory Health and Hygiene Education (PHHE) initiative, 432 sanitation action groups and 388 health clubs were supported to provide hygiene messages to rural children and families.  UNICEF also works on the critically important issue of Menstrual Hygiene Management which can greatly impact on the health and education of adolescent girls and is currently commissioning a large scale formative study to better guide large scale MHM programming moving forward.

Capacity Building in The Wash Sector

Work continues to enhance national capacity and partnerships for improved WASH service delivery. A national community-based management strategy is now in place to facilitate community management of operation and maintenance of water systems. UNICEF also strongly believes in system strengthening to ensure Government, development actors and communities can work together better to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in Zimbabwe. One such platform is a regular WASH partner forum for sharing of information and knowledge.  Currently UNICEF is supporting Government on a Joint Sector review to help streamline accountabilities in the sector, produce costed investment plans to meet the SDGs and mould a common vision for WASH in Zimbabwe.


UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team works in over 100 countries worldwide to improve water and sanitation services, as well as basic hygiene practices. Last year, UNICEF’s efforts saw 45 million reached with improved water supplies, improved sanitation for 22 million and 50,000 communities become open defecation free.

In times of crisis children are particularly vulnerable; UNICEF responds and provides emergency relief to those in need.  UNICEF WASH team in Zimbabwe supported Government in 2018 with response to drought, cholera and typhoid outbreaks and co-chairs an Emergency Strategic Advisory Group with Government on WASH in Emergencies.  Approx. 300,000 people in the latest cholera outbreak have been reached by UNICEF.

Girl standing by a borehole fetching water