Lack of Safe Water More Deadly to Children Than War, UNICEF Warns


Delia Paul


22 March 2019: The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has launched a report on water supply for children in complex humanitarian emergencies, drawing on data from 16 conflict-affected countries. The UN agency notes that almost three times as many children under 15 worldwide die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by lack of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities than from actual conflicts; for children and infants under five, more than 20 times as many die from unsafe WASH than from violence in conflict.

The 13-page report titled, ‘Water Under Fire: For Every Child, Water and Sanitation in Complex Emergencies,’ was launched to mark World Water Day on 22 March 2019. The report contains facts and figures about the impact that lack of WASH in conflict situations has on children, and presents stories about individual children’s lives in Bangladesh, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and other conflict-affected countries.

The report draws on data from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It finds that, in 2014-2016, diarrhoeal diseases caused more children’s deaths than violence in all countries, with the exception of Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Children in conflict situations are at risk from violence when they go out to fetch water.

The report explains that access to WASH may be limited during humanitarian crises not only because of lack of access to water points, but also because of restrictions on the movement of supplies such as fuel to run water pumps and chlorine for water treatment. The study also shows that children in conflict situations are at risk not only from lack of safe drinking water, but also from violence, including sexual violence, when they go out to fetch water.

In the report, UNICEF makes a three-point call for action to limit the impact of unsafe WASH on children in humanitarian emergencies, namely, to: stop attacks on water and sanitation infrastructure and personnel; build a WASH sector that can provide consistent, high-quality water and sanitation services; and ensure that humanitarian responses include the development of water and sanitation services for all.

SDG target 3.2 expresses commitment to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five, and SDG targets 6.1 and 6.2 focus on providing safe drinking water and sanitation for all, respectively, with special attention to the needs of women, girls, and those in vulnerable situations.

UNICEF provided 35.3 million people around the world with safe drinking water in 2018. [Publication: Water Under Fire: For Every Child, Water and Sanitation in Complex Emergencies] [UN Press Release]