On the 4 April 2019, at the opening of the Sanitation and Water for All Sector Ministers’ Meeting in Costa Rica, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, presented a high-reaching goal to provide safe drinking water to 60 million more people by 2021 and to cut open defecation for 250 million.
To achieve this ambitious goal, Fore believes that progress is urgently needed in three main areas : WASH in health care facilities, WASH in conflict, and “bringing more private sector expertise, products and financing into our work.”
WASH in health care facilities
According to a new report by UNICEF and WHO, one in four health care facilities lacks basic water services. Putting an estimated two billion people at increased risk of infection.
“Consider the birth of a baby. Every birth should be supported by a safe pair of hands, washed with soap and water, using sterile equipment, in a clean environment,” she said.
“Consider also the plight of mothers in the least-developed countries. Seventeen million of them give birth in health centres with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene every year. Putting them at risk of maternal sepsis.”
The report includes eight specific actions that governments can take to improve WASH services in these facilities. From establishing national plans and targets — to improving infrastructure — to working directly with communities to create demand.
Fore stated that “improving WASH services is a solvable problem with a high return on investment. And it represents one more step towards improving primary health care services for all people, no matter where they live.”
WASH in conflicts
In relation to water, sanitation and health in conflicts, Henrietta Fore pointed out that “One in four children in the world is living in a country affected by conflict or disaster. We know that children living in fragile and conflict-affected countries are twice as likely to lack basic sanitation — and four times as likely to lack basic drinking water.”
She continued: “Unsafe water can be as deadly as bullets or bombs. Children under 15 are almost three times more likely to die from diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation — like diarrhoea or cholera — than from direct violence.”
“We’re also seeing access to water being used as a weapon of war. Direct and deliberate attacks on water systems are all too common in conflict. When the flow of clean water stops, children are forced to rely on unsafe sources.”
UNICEF is taking a long-term view across all of our emergency WASH programmes and is working with the private sector across our water and sanitation programming.
This includes market development to meet consumer demand — and even potential employment for local populations.
In East Africa, UNICEF has partnered with the LIXIL Corporation and governments across the region to expand the availability of affordable, state-of-the-art toilet pans that use little water.
In Somalia, the NGO is working with the EU, local government, and businesses and investors to develop public-private partnerships focused on pipelines and reservoirs, drilling and testing borehole, and supporting better water-system management and maintenance.
And in Bangladesh, Sanitation Market Systems — or “SanMarkS” — is bringing together public, private and development partners to reach more households with improved sanitation. Manufacturing firms are producing low-cost latrine parts and working with local companies to market and install them. So far, 95,000 latrines have been sold, and more than 500 local people are installing and marketing them.
She highlighted the progress of several countries and regions in recent years:
- The progress of South Asia — which has seen the greatest increase in the use of toilets over than last decade than at any time in history.
- The progress of Ethiopia, Nepal and Cambodia — all on track to eliminating open defecation by 2030. If not earlier.
- The progress of Niger, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Togo and Mozambique. All have national roadmaps to deliver total access to sanitation, in every community.
She finished her speech saying: "So let’s combine our ideas and efforts. Let’s learn from one another. Let’s hold each other accountable for our commitments. And let’s make the coming decade one of action, results and progress for this critical sector."