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. Through its Water Security for All initiatives, UNICEF seeks to ensure every child has access to sustainable and climate-resilient water services.
"We have to act now both to address the water crisis and to prevent it from getting any worse,” says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We can only achieve water security for every child through innovation, investment and collaboration, and by ensuring services are sustainable and resilient to climate shocks. For our children and our planet, we have to act.”
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.
As with UNICEF's work to end the COVID-19 pandemic, an important goal is always securing adequate water, sanitaiton 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 more than 1.6 billion people access safe drinking water — be it piped into the home or drawn from a protected well. Still, one in five children globally does not have enough water to meet their everyday needs.
"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."