Water is essential for the survival and development of all children. Without water, children simply cannot stay alive or thrive in a healthy environment. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, strengthen poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Water facts:

  • 663 million people are still without access to clean drinking water, despite the Millennium Development Goal target for clean water being met in 2010.
  • 8 out of 10 people without access to clean water live in rural areas.
  • 159 million people use untreated water from lakes and rivers, the most unsafe water source there is.
  • Since 1990, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water and today, 91% of the world’s population drink clean water.

Drinking water supply and water safety
Globally, the inequalities between those having access to water living in an urban area or rural areas have decreased but large gaps remain. Eight out of ten people without access to safe drinking water live in rural areas and nearly half of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. The most deprived are still using untreated surface waters like lakes and rivers. Many of those deprived communities are located in remote hard to reach areas. Therefore, rural water supply will remain a challenge for many national governments and their development partners in the coming decade.

Safety of drinking water is a growing concern in many parts of the world. Drinking water sources are increasingly under threat from contamination, which impacts on not only on the health of children, but also on the economic, environmental and social development of communities and nations.

Threats to drinking water quality include unsafe handling and storage at the household: water drawn from safe sources may be contaminated by the time it reaches and is ultimately consumed in households.

In addition to this is the threat of contamination of water sources – both naturally occurring and from pollution. Water contaminated with arsenic and fluoride threaten the health of millions in certain counties; water that has been in contact with human feces is a major cause of disease, including diarrhea, which kills over 800 children a day.

In some areas of the world, the availability of water is scarce. Poor governance, environmental degradation, over-extraction and climate change are further diminishing already scarce freshwater resources. UNICEF’s WASH programme supports governments to prepare for and adapt to climate change and using innovative solutions, such as solar power water pumps and rainwater harvesting, to reduce the impact of climate change on children and help protect their future.

UNICEF’s work on water supply
Improving families’ access to safe, sustainable and affordable drinking water at reasonable distances from their home is a key part of UNICEF’s efforts.

Increasing equitable access
To increase equitable access to drinking water UNICEF works on developing a market and a team of professional low-cost drillers that can provide safe water to poor and marginalized communities. An important task is to find the best and safest source for the water point. Groundwater is increasingly used for water supply and is often relatively easy to access and is less likely to become contaminated than surface water.

But as groundwater is hidden underground (“out of site out of mind”) it is often poorly managed or understood. In fact, it is often a fragile resource susceptible to over-extraction and once contaminated difficult to treat. UNICEF has developed a series of Groundwater Programming Principles to ensure how to best site and develop a new water point.

Manual Drilling Toolkit Explore the for technical information related codes of practices, studies, maps, videos and more with the Manual Drilling Toolkit.

Improve reliable access
Over the years, UNICEF and partners have learned that reliable service access that delivers water that household’s need for drinking, hygiene and cooking requires a broader engagement with communities, government and service providers. This broader coalition helps build an enabling environment capable of operating and managing the drinking water so it becomes a service. In most countries, institutional arrangements for water service delivery are in place: policies, plans and institutions exist, but still, performance remains poor. In this context, accountability helps instill responsibility and improve the relationships between the different service delivery stakeholders. UNICEF and the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI have partnered to improve accountability for service delivery including the opportunity for communities to participate and have access to means to hold government and providers to account for the reliability of their services. One important element is the use of mobile phones to report and monitor the functionality of the water point.

Using safe drinking water
The best way to address contamination of drinking water is by preventing it from happening in the first place. Water safety planning is an approach that helps communities and service providers understand and manage contamination risks, and it is increasingly being applied to new and rehabilitated water points. Water safety planning also helps to identify the necessary control measures communities can take to protect their water from becoming contaminated from such things as poorly constructed or located toilets. Well-constructed toilets help prevent the contamination of water supplies. Regular handwashing after defecation and before handling water minimizes the risk that dirty hands contaminate water used in the home. For these reasons, UNICEF stresses sanitation and hygiene promotion as an important line of defense for protecting drinking water from fecal contamination.

Household water treatment (for example chlorination or filtration), along with improved water storage and handling, is another control measure to ensures safe water use inside the household, and is supported by UNICEF.

Arsenic and fluoride
For over a decade, UNICEF has worked closely with governments in countries where fluoride and arsenic are serious problems, including Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam and elsewhere. We support governments to systematically monitor arsenic levels in drinking water; mark wells that should not be used for drinking or cooking; find low-cost alternative, safe water supplies; and help change knowledge, attitudes and practices to protect vulnerable populations from arsenic poisoning.

Assisting the government to collect reliable data on the status of arsenic in the country is another important aspect of UNICEF’s assistance and the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey is increasingly collecting global data on arsenic in drinking water.

Climate resilient development
The effects of climate change are first felt through water: through droughts, floods and storms. These disasters can wash away water supplies, or leave them contaminated, putting the lives of millions of children at risk. Many of the regions most at risk of droughts and floods already have very low levels of access to water, and the 60 million children living in these areas are extremely vulnerable. To tackle climate change UNICEF supports counties to choose solutions that are more resistant to climate chance, such as solar power water pumps and increased storage of water and harvest rainwater to bridge over dry spells. We also support governments with access to data for decision making and prioritizing climate change adaptation on national WASH strategies and plans.

World Water Day is held on the 22nd of March every year. World Water Week is held from 28 August until 2 September.


Manual Drilling Toolkit

WASH Climate Resilient Development: Strategic Framework

Accountability in WASH: Explaining the Concept