The study, released on Monday ahead of the historic UN Water Conference, highlights the dire situation where children are most vulnerable and where investment in solutions is desperately needed to prevent unnecessary deaths.
According to the analysis, West and Central Africa are among the most water-insecure and climate-impacted regions globally, with Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia facing the triple threat of water-related crises.
Furthermore, these countries are also facing instability and armed conflict, making the situation for children even more dire, as clean water and sanitation become increasingly scarce.
In the ten hotspots, nearly one-third of children do not have access to basic water at home, while two-thirds do not have basic sanitation services, with a quarter of children practising open defecation. Hand hygiene is also limited, with three-quarters of children unable to wash their hands due to a 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 facilities, such as diarrhoeal diseases, with six of the ten countries having faced cholera outbreaks in the past year.
Globally, over 1,000 children under the age of five die each day from WASH-related diseases, with approximately two out of five deaths concentrated in these ten countries alone.
Moreover, the hotspots rank among the top 25% of 163 countries globally with the highest risk of exposure to climate and environmental threats. Higher temperatures are increasing 1.5 times faster than the global average in some parts of West and Central Africa, while rainfall has become more erratic and intense, leading to floods that contaminate scarce water supplies.
Groundwater levels are also dropping, requiring some communities to dig wells twice as deep as just a decade ago.
All ten countries are also classified as fragile or extremely fragile by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 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, with 58 water points attacked in 2022, and more than 830,000 people, over half of whom are children, losing access to safe drinking water in the last year.
“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,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Programmes.
The analysis underscores the need for immediate action to provide these vulnerable children with access to safe water and sanitation facilities, while also addressing the impact of climate change in the region.