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More than 180 million people lack basic drinking water in countries ravaged by conflict or unrest - UNICEF

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Children living in fragile situations are four times more likely to lack access to basic drinking water. Photo: UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet HungChildren living in fragile situations are four times more likely to lack access to basic drinking water. Photo: UNICEF Viet Nam\2016\Truong Viet Hung

NEW YORK/STOCKHOLM, 29 August 2017 – More than 180 million people do not have access to basic drinking water in countries affected by conflict, violence and instability* around the world, UNICEF warned today, as World Water Week gets under way.

“Children’s access to safe water and sanitation, especially in conflicts and emergencies, is a right, not a privilege” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF’s global chief of water, sanitation and hygiene. ”In countries beset by violence, displacement, conflict and instability, children’s most basic means of survival – water – must be a priority.”

People living in fragile situations are four times more likely to lack basic drinking water than populations in non-fragile situations, according to a recent UNICEF and World Health Organisation analysis. Of the estimated 484 million people living in fragile situations in 2015, 183 million lacked basic drinking water services.

In Yemen, a country reeling from the impact of over two years of conflict, water supply networks that serve the country’s largest cities are at imminent risk of collapse due to war-inflicted damage and disrepair. Around 15 million people in the country have been cut off from regular access to water and sanitation.

In Syria, where the conflict is well into its seventh year, around 15 million people are in need of safe water, including an estimated 6.4 million children. Water has frequently been used as a weapon of war: In 2016 alone, there were at least 30 deliberate water cuts – including in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Raqqa and Dara, with pumps destroyed and water sources contaminated.

In conflict-affected areas in northeast Nigeria, 75 per cent of water and sanitation infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, leaving 3.6 million people without even basic water services.

In South Sudan, where fighting has raged for over three years, almost half the water points across the country have been damaged or completely destroyed.

“In far too many cases, water and sanitation systems have been attacked, damaged or left in disrepair to the point of collapse. When children have no safe water to drink, and when health systems are left in ruins, malnutrition and potentially fatal diseases like cholera will inevitably follow,” said Wijesekera.

In Yemen, for example, children make up more than 53 per cent of the over half a million cases of suspected cholera and acute watery diarrhoea reported so far.  Somalia is suffering from the largest outbreak of cholera in the last five years, with more than 77,000 cases of suspected cholera/acute watery diarrhoea. And in South Sudan, the cholera outbreak is the most severe the country has ever experienced, with more than 19,000 cases since June 2016. 

In famine-threatened north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, nearly 30 million people, including 14.6 million children, are in urgent need of safe water. More than 5 million children are malnourished, with 1.4 million severely so.

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Notes for editors:

According to the World Bank Harmonized List of Fragile Situations

About UNICEF
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Photos and video available for download here: http://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIFLPXK4D

For further information, please contact

  • Mr Louis Vigneault-Dubois, UNICEF Việt Nam +84-4-38500241; +84-966539673;  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Ms Nguyễn Thị Thanh Hương, UNICEF Việt Nam, 84-4-38500225; +84-904154678;  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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