Steven carries water from a solar powered water tap in Malawi
Steven carries water from a solar powered water tap in Malawi

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 and sanitation are basic human rights, that we are working to uphold for every child though our water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes.

It’s about health – a lack of these things causes diseases that kill over 800 children under five years old, 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.

We are determined to change this. We’re working with governments in more than 128 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.

Helping more children go to school

Vulnerable groups of children, are often the worst affected by lack of proper WASH services.

In Malawi, 14-year-old Steven had to walk almost two kilometres from his house to collect water from a murky well, and was often too sick or tired to go to school. A solar powered tap installed by UNICEF in 2021, allows 14-year-old Steven to safely collect water near his home.

“I felt relieved. Now I could go to school early and concentrate on the lessons instead” Steven Mariko

Enabling more girls to stay in school in Zambia

Girls wash their hands at a newly built hand-washing point at the primary school in Kuzungula District, Zambia. UNICEF/Schermbrucker
We supported the introduction of new girls' toilet blocks, hand-washing stations and menstrual hygiene kits to schools in Zambia. UNICEF/Schermbrucker
Proper WASH facilities are a must to make sure girls stay in school. Our work has significantly reduced the dropout rate in Zambia. UNICEF/Schermbrucker

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 2021, we helped provide WASH services in more than 4,000 schools and more than 4,000 health care facilities. That means more children able to learn and receive medical care without risking disease. In places like Malawi, 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. UNICEF/Rich
By using solar energy, the system pumps treated water from a borehole to different communities, schools and the main health centre. UNICEF/Rich
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. UNICEF/Rich

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.

Three years ago, 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.

We were 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.

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 Pakistan, 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.

 

YOU CAN HELP US REACH MORE CHILDREN WITH CLEAN WATER, PROPER SANITATION AND GOOD HYGIENE

A monthly gift from you can help us continue saving and improving children's lives, now and in the future.

Discover more