UNICEF’s long standing support for improving water supply, sanitation and hygiene stems from a firm conviction and based on sound evidence that these are central to ensuring the rights of children.
In fact, it is essential for children to survive, grow and develop into healthy and fulfilled citizens of the world. In the broader context, UNICEF’s activities in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Hand washing with soap, particularly after contact with excreta, can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40 per cent and respiratory infections by 30 per cent. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections are the number one cause for child deaths in India.
Hand washing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia.
With 594 million people defecating in the open and 44 per cent mothers disposing their children’s faeces in the open, there is a very high risk of microbial contamination (bacteria, viruses, amoeba) of water which causes diarrhoea in children.
Children weakened by frequent diarrhoea episodes are more vulnerable to malnutrition and opportunistic infections such as pneumonia. About 48 per cent of children in India are suffering from some degree of malnutrition. Diarrhoea and worm infection are two major health conditions that affect school age children impacting their learning abilities.
Adequate, well-maintained water supply and sanitation facilities in schools encourage children to attend school regularly and help them achieve their educational goals. Inadequate water supply and sanitation in schools are health hazards and affect school attendance, retention and educational performance.
Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to dropping out, as many are reluctant to continue their schooling because toilet facilities are not private, not safe or simply not available
Women and girls face shame and a loss of personal dignity and safety risk if there is no toilet at home. They have to wait for the night to relieve themselves to avoid being seen by others.
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Chemical contamination in water ensuring water quality at the source is crucial. In India, there is a widespread natural occurrence of arsenic and fluoride in the groundwater. UNICEF is supporting Government of India programs on arsenic and fluoride mitigation and identifying water quality testing technologies which are appropriate for use in field situations.
All emergencies cause disruption to basic services. People are less likely to be able to drink safe water, use basic sanitation facilities and maintain improved hygiene practices. Children, especially those under the age of five, are particularly vulnerable to the diseases which can result during emergencies.
These diseases include diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, respiratory infections, skin and eye infections which are all likely to occur when water supplies and sanitation services are disrupted. UNICEF has set out minimum standards of response for any emergency situation. These describe the life saving actions which UNICEF will take within the first six to eight weeks of an emergency, along with the longer term role in the subsequent weeks and months.
UNICEF supports the national and state governments in developing and implementing a range of replicable intervention models for sanitation, hygiene and water supply. UNICEF’s Childs Environment Programme in India supports the government’s flagship programmes of Total Sanitation Campaign to improve access to and use of sanitation facilities and the National Rural Drinking Water Programme to provide adequate safe water to every rural household in India.
The Childs Environment program also works with Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Integrated Child Development Services, to promote hygiene water and sanitation services in schools, Anganwadi centers and health centers with lasting outcomes.