Students wash their hands at a newly built handwashing point at the primary school in Kuzungula District, Southern Province, Zambia, Monday 28 November 2016.
Students wash their hands at a newly built handwashing point at the primary school in Kuzungula District, Southern Province, Zambia, Monday 28 November 2016.

Clean water, proper sanitation and
good hygiene for every child

Home > What we do > Water, sanitation and hygiene

Why it matters

For children to grow up healthy and happy, they need access to clean water, proper sanitation, and good hygiene. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are basic human rights, that UNICEF is working to uphold for every child.

It’s about health – a lack of these things causes diseases that kill over 800 children every day. It’s about time – millions of children miss out on an education because they spend hours every day collecting water. And it’s about fairness – the most vulnerable children are often the worst affected.

UNICEF is determined to change this. We’re working with governments in more than 113 countries to build WASH systems that last.  We lead the response in emergencies, coordinating humanitarian organisations and governments, to provide life-saving supplies and support. And as our climate changes, we’re helping communities to be prepared for future challenges.

Keeping children safe in Nigeria with clean water and emergency toilets

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Building systems that last

We’re working to ensure children can access safe water, sanitation and hygiene throughout childhood, in their homes, schools, health facilities and communities.

In 2017, we helped install WASH facilities in more than 8,000 schools and 1,500 health-care centres. That means more children able to learn and receive medical care without risking disease. In places like South Sudan, we’re using solar power to transform water access for the most remote communities.

And we empower people with information – about hand-washing, menstrual hygiene and waste disposal. By developing infrastructure and understanding, we’re working to progressively improve WASH services around the world, so that children and their families can thrive.

Providing off-grid communities in South Sudan with access to clean water

In South Sudan, the least electrified country in the world, a UNICEF-supported solar energy water system has transformed access to clean water.

By using solar energy, the system pumps treated water from a borehole to different communities, schools and the main health centre.

Now that children have access to safe water close to home, they are not only healthier, but have more time to go to school and play with friends.

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WASH is about fairness

Vulnerable groups of children, are often the worst affected by lack of proper WASH services. When there aren’t proper facilities near their homes, girls have to make long, dangerous journeys, often at night, just to go to the toilet. And when they don’t have access to separate bathrooms at school, attendance drops and they miss out on education.

A lack of proper WASH for girls in schools is one of the main factors stopping 9 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa from learning to read and write. We work to uphold the right of all children to health, safety and education.

Our work in Zambia is enabling more girls to go to school

Young girl at school in Kugunzula. Find out how you can leave a lasting legacy for children in our free Gifts in Wills Guide.

Zambia, 2016. A girl in a Grade 1 class smiles while working at the blackboard, in Kuzungula Primary School.

Girls wash their hands at a newly built hand-washing point at the primary school in Kuzungula District, Zambia.

UNICEF has supported the introduction of new girls' toilet blocks, hand-washing stations and menstrual hygiene kits to schools in Zambia.

Proper WASH facilities are a must to make sure girls stay in school. UNICEF's work has significantly reduced the dropout rate in Zambia.

WASH in emergencies

During conflict and disasters, children often lose access to safe water and a clean environment. Whenever this occurs we lead the response, coordinating humanitarian organisations and governments, to rapidly provide life-saving supplies and support.

Last year, over one million Rohingya, two thirds of them children, fled violence in Myanmar. They had no choice but to take shelter in overcrowded, makeshift settlements, in swampy terrain in Bangladesh. The risk of waterborne diseases in these conditions is extremely high.

UNICEF was on hand immediately, trucking in life-saving clean water and providing water purification tablets. We’re also helping to build wells and water treatment plants, and carrying out hygiene education activities. All to ensure the long term safety of Rohingya families, in what is now the largest refugee camp in the world.

Sabu, a young Rohingya mother, has trained to become a Community health educator. She goes door-to-door talking to other mothers about the importance of sanitation and hygiene in keeping their children healthy.

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Water and children in a changing climate

Our planet’s climate is changing, causing erratic weather and rising sea levels. The quality and quantity of water, that children rely on for survival, is under threat. By 2040, 1 in 4 children will live in areas with extremely high water stress.

Recently in Bangladesh, we’ve seen floods deprive children of a safe environment and cause water-borne diseases. Droughts in East Africa have forced children to walk long distances in search of water. And, in the Pacific, rising sea levels are causing salt water to infiltrate water supplies, making them undrinkable.

We’re protecting children’s access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, now and for the future. We help to develop technologies, like drought-resistant deep wells and flood-resistant toilets. And we’re working with governments to make sure children are at the heart of climate discussions and decisions.


Children play 'hide and seek' in a graveyard on Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean. Islanders face coastal erosion, surface flooding, and saltwater intrusion into soil and groundwater.


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