With conflict and natural disasters on the rise, lack of access to water and sanitation is becoming an increasing threat to children’s well-being, according to UNICEF.
Around the world, 420 million children living in crisis do not have basic sanitation, and 210 million lack access to safe drinking water, the organization reported on Tuesday. UNICEF’s latest report, “Water Under Fire,” seeks to ensure the rights to water and sanitation for all while moving toward sustainable development and peace. The report maps out how water, sanitation, and hygiene services can be planned, financed, and executed to protect children in conflict-affected areas.
Two young men bathe in Nayapara refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh in July 2018. The Boro Chara stream’s heavy brown sediment water is treated to remove sediment, and chlorine is added to make it safe to drink.
“There has never been a more urgent time to safeguard the right to water and sanitation for every child,” UNICEF Associate Director for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Kelly Ann Naylor said in a press release. Conflict-related crises are increasing, last longer, and are affecting more people, Naylor pointed out.
For communities living in crisis-affected areas, a lack of safe water and sanitation due to destroyed infrastructure or natural disaster becomes an obstacle to achieving good health. Hospitals are shut down, which increases exposure to preventable diseases, according to the report. Women and girls are especially at risk in these situations because they are often responsible for collecting water for their families, which increases their chances of getting harassed and missing school or work. Without sanitation facilities or resources, people who menstruate can’t manage their periods, resort to staying at home, and miss out on opportunities to reach their full potentials.
Students from the Marie Madeleine Primary School inspect the bathrooms to maintain clean latrines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, children are taught the basics of proper hygiene and sanitation as a part of their education.
The report showed that armed conflict has increased worldwide over the last decade, displacing millions of people and presenting a challenge for host communities that need to supply basic needs, including water and sanitation, to growing populations. But limited water supplies could be as deadly as bullets, according to UNICEF. Children under the age of 15 are nearly three times more likely to die from diseases linked to poor sanitation conditions than from violence.
Climate change is also playing a role in the growing water crisis, making water availability less predictable. This is speeding up hunger and health crises for entire populations in war-torn countries from Africa’s Sahel region to the Middle East, the report said.
UNICEF is looking to replicate successful water and sanitation initiatives in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries. The report aims to use these solutions as a model for larger-scale frameworks that can ensure children around the world have access to water and sanitation.
Through improved sanitation education in South Sudan for example, families have been able to address malnutrition and decrease acts of gender-based violence. And an effort to close water service gaps in Tripoli, Lebanon has eased tensions between residents and Syrian refugees.
“Humanitarian assistance alone will not resolve these issues, but through cross-sector partnerships we can build sustainable and resilient water, sanitation, and hygiene services that can create a more stable and peaceful future for children and their families,” Naylor said.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) collect water as a sandstorm approaches in Abs IDP settlement, Hajjah Governorate, Yemen, in May 2017.