Climate-resilient water, sanitation & hygiene policies need of hour to meet global agenda of 2030

The 10 African countries most water-insecure & climate-impacted need immediate attention 

By Shivangi Aggarwal
Published: Thursday 23 March 2023
Photo: iStock

Lack of monitoring of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)-related programmes, projects and policies in a third of the developing nations is a major factor driving water insecurity in the world’s worst-impact countries, a new report noted.

Inappropriate funding allocation for children makes mitigation more challenging, according to the report released March 19, 2023 by UNICEF.

The United Nations child welfare organisation analysed 10 African countries where children are most affected by the convergence of three water-related threats: Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene; related diseases; and climate hazards. 

The report Triple Threat released just ahead of the UN Water Conference (March 22-24, 2023) called for urgent investment in WASH services to protect children. 

The 10 African countries facing this triple burden are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Somalia — all in sub-Saharan Africa — with a combined population of 190 million children, according to the Children’s Climate Risk Index 2021 by UNICEF. 

They are the world's most water-insecure and climate-impacted countries, experiencing water scarcity and conflicts, heat waves, flooding and cyclones.

They are within the top 25 per cent of the developing countries in terms of exposure to climate and environmental hazards, shocks and stresses. They are also not on track to meet the UN-mandated sustainable development goals (SDG) target of universal access to basic WASH services by 2030. 

Countries most affected by poor WASH, related disease & climate threat 

Out of these 10 countries, Chad has the lowest percentage of access to basic WASH facilities and has the world’s highest burden of deaths of children under five years due to unsafe WASH 

Globally, the percentage of households with access to at least basic drinking water rose to 90 per cent in 2020 from 82 per cent in 2000; access to households with at least basic sanitation rose to 78 per cent in 2020 from 56 per cent in 2000, based on estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) / UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme.

Around four million children below the age of five died in 2019 due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene practices globally, according to WHO estimates on WASH. Children are the least responsible for climate change and yet bear the greatest burden of its impacts. 

The United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council recognised the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation as part of the binding international law in 2010. Considering the 2030 targets, the progress made in the last decade (until 2020) is slow, as 600 million children globally still face health issues from access to unsafe water and sanitation or no access at all, said the report. 

In 2022, the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water found that 75 per cent of countries had insufficient WASH funding. There is a need to scale up investment in the sector rapidly, including from global climate financing, which is currently estimated at $114 billion per year in developing countries, the authors of the report said.

The report makes it clear that if these 10 African countries are not on track, then the Global South will not  meet SDG 6 of water and sanitation. This will result in huge investment on health costs, it added.

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