Clean and Safe Water Projects: UNICEF USA's Mission

Saru Saud, 7, drinks water from her cupped hands, at a community water point in impoverished Biraltoli Village in Achham District in Far-Western Region in Nepal.

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Access to safe drinking water and sanitation

Water is life. But when water is unsafe and sanitation nonexistent, water can kill. Children under age 5 are, on average, 20 times more likely to die from diarrheal diseases associated with poor water, sanitation and hygiene than from violence in conflict. Unsafe water and diseases caused by poor sanitation are one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 years old. 

COVID-19 has made safe water and hygiene even more critical. Handwashing is essential to preventing COVID-19 infection. Yet 3 billion people don't have soap and water at home, and over 800 million children attend schools where they can't wash their hands. And at the start of the global pandemic, one-third of health care facilities were not equipped to provide the essentials for handwashing.  

UNICEF works in more than 100 countries to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH) to the world's most vulnerable communities, whether by delivering safe water after a disaster or promoting proper hygiene practices in schools and communities. When 2020 began, UNICEF had set ambitious goals to provide water, sanitation and hygiene services to vulnerable children and families worldwide. And as of mid-year, UNICEF had already helped 14.2 million people gain access to safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. 

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, UNICEF's water, sanitation and hygiene services became more important than ever. To help prevent infection and stop COVID-19's spread, UNICEF provided nearly 74 million people with vital supplies like soap and hygiene kits and installed handwashing stations and latrines that supported millions of people. 

UNICEF has all hands on deck fighting to end the COVID-19 pandemic — and keep children safe wherever and whenever other disasters strike. When Tropical Cyclone Eloise hit Mozambique, UNICEF emergency response teams rushed to help the estimated 170,000 people severely affected by the tropical superstorm. This little boy, and many other children who are still living with the effects of 2019's devastating cyclone Idai, received safe drinking water and other lifesaving assistance from UNICEF and partners. © UNICEF/UN0409398/Franco

"Building back better" is a driving force behind UNICEF's response to all emergencies. As with UNICEF's work to end the COVID-19 pandemic, an important goal is always securing adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services for households, schools and health care facilities. Ensuring these services are also climate-resilient can better prepare communities to fight the spread of infectious diseases and potentially prevent future pandemics and other shocks.

Since 2000, UNICEF has helped 1.6 billion people access safe drinking water — be it piped into the home or drawn from a protected well. Still, nearly 160 million children are affected by severe drought and more than half a billion live in areas extremely prone to flooding. 

"Going forward, we want to reach over 45 million people with WASH supplies and services," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "And we will work with WHO and others to ensure that WASH becomes a permanent fixture in government plans, programs and budgets."

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