600 Million Lacks Safe Drinking Water; Africa Worst Hit

600 Million Lacks Safe Drinking Water; Africa Worst Hit

About 600 million children lack safely managed drinking water, of which ten countries are in Africa where 190  million children lack such facility, according to the latest analysis from UNICEF.

The study, released on Monday ahead of the historic UN Water Conference, noted that 1.1 billion lack safely managed sanitation and 689 million lack basic hygiene service. The study reviewed household access to WASH services, the burden of WASH-attributable deaths among children under five, and exposure to climate and environmental hazards, revealing where children face the biggest threat, and where investment in solutions is desperately needed to prevent unnecessary deaths.

“An estimated 3.6 billion people – half of the world’s population – still lack safe sanitation at home, while 1.8 billion live in homes without safe drinking water. Each year, 829,000 people die from diseases directly attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices. These figures are deeply alarming and are a clear indication that we are far from achieving universal access to safe water and sanitation – Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell .


In the analysis, UNICEF said that unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is still responsible for the deaths of around 400,000 children under the age of 5 each year, or 1,000 every day. The challenge of extending WASH services to children in need is further compounded by water scarcity, floods and cyclones – all exacerbated by the climatecrisis. The triple burden of WASH-related threats facing children – limited access to WASH services, the burden of WASH-related diseases among children under 5 and increasing fragility from climate threats – is primarily concentrated in a small number of countries, the analysis said.

The analysis also noted that almost all cases of cholera between 2010 and 2021) were from 31 of the 34 countries with the lowest levels of water and sanitation services. Only three countries with levels of less than 70 per cent for basic water and 55 per cent for basic sanitation coverage did not report cholera cases.


“Africa is facing a water catastrophe. While climate and water-related shocks are escalating globally, nowhere else in the world do the risks compound as severely for children,” said UNICEF Director of Programmes Sanjay Wijesekera.

“Devastating storms, floods, and historic droughts are already destroying facilities and homes, contaminating water resources, creating hunger crises, and spreading disease. But as challenging as the current conditions are, without urgent action, the future could be much more bleak.”

The triple threat was found to be most acute in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia, making West and Central Africa one of the world’s most water-insecure and climate-impacted regions, according to the analysis. Many of the worst-affected countries, particularly in the Sahel, are also facing instability and armed conflict, further aggravating children’s access to clean water and sanitation.

Across the 10 hotspots, nearly one-third of children do not have access to at least basic water at home, and two-thirds do not have basic sanitation services. A quarter of children have no choice but to practise open defecation. Hand hygiene is also limited, with three-quarters of children unable to wash their hands because of lack of water and soap at home.

As a result, these countries also carry the heaviest burden of child deaths from diseases caused by inadequate WASH, such as diarrhoeal diseases. For example, six of the 10 have faced cholera outbreaks over the past year. Globally, more than 1,000 children under five die every day from WASH-related diseases, with around two out of five concentrated in these 10 countries alone.

These hotspots also rank within the top 25 per cent of 163 countries globally with the highest risk of exposure to climate and environmental threats. Higher temperatures – which accelerate pathogen replication – are increasing 1.5 times faster than the global average in parts of West and Central Africa. Groundwater levels are also dropping, requiring some communities to dig wells twice as deep as just a decade ago. At the same time, rainfall has become more erratic and intense, leading to floods that contaminate scarce water supplies.

 All 10 countries are also classified by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as fragile or extremely fragile, with the stresses of armed conflict in some countries threatening to reverse progress toward safe water and sanitation.

For example, Burkina Faso has seen a ramping up of attacks on water facilities as a tactic to displace communities. Fifty-eight water points were attacked in 2022, and more than 830,000 people – over half of whom are children – lost access to safe drinking water in the last year.


UNICEF is calling on governments and partners to:

• Scale up investment in the sector, including global climate financing.

• Strengthen resilience in the WASH sector and communities.

• Prioritize leaving no one behind.

• Increase effective and accountable coordination and capacities to provide water and sanitation services.

• Implement the UN-Water SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework and invest in the key accelerators.


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