Tag Archives: Sustainable Development Goals

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

New data cast light on poor hygiene

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2056/Dean

This week is World Water Week. Each year, leaders and experts meet in Stockholm to discuss global challenges relating to water. This year the conference celebrates its 25th year, with a specific focus is on water for development. There will also be lots of discussion about the broad spectrum of water issues ranging from water resources and climate change to access to the most basic of drinking water and sanitation facilities. There will be some, but all too little debate about the related topic of hygiene.

Four surprising facts on hygiene

  1. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality.
  2. Research studies have suggested that very few people – approximately one in five globally – wash their hands after going to the loo. Whilst these data are limited they certainly demonstrate the scale of the challenge.
  3. Last year the Guinness World record for handwashing was won when almost 13 million students washed their hands simultaneously across over 1,300 schools in Madhya Pradesh, India.
  4. Menstrual hygiene remains a taboo in many settings – with poor knowledge and misconceptions as great a challenge as access to adequate facilities at home as well as at school. Learn more about menstrual hygiene and its impacts on women and girls in the Menstrual Hygiene Matters report.

It also happens to be the 25th anniversary of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, whose report at the end of the Millennium Development Goals showed that 663 million people still lack an improved source of drinking water and 2.4 billion lack an improved sanitation facility.The ability to track progress on drinking water and sanitation during the last twenty-five years has helped to draw attention to people without basic services and to highlight persistent inequalities both between and within countries. Until recently, far less attention had been given to hygiene, which unlike water and sanitation, was not part of the Millennium Development Goals and has not been systematically tracked at the global level.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. © UNICEF/BANA2014-01296/Paul

Of the range of hygiene behaviours considered important for health, handwashing with soap is a top priority in all settings. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality. But handwashing behaviours are tricky to measure – people know the “right” answer and are very likely to tell you it if you ask them directly. For that reason, the most practical approach leading to reliable measurement of handwashing is observation of the place where hands are washed and noting the presence of water and soap at that location. This lets you know whether households have the necessary tools for handwashing and provides a proxy for their behaviour. Learn more by reading the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program working paper: Practical Guidance for Measuring Handwashing Behavior.

The data for over 50 countries show consistently low levels of access to handwashing facilities in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa but also Southern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo fewer than one in ten people have access to a facility. In countries with higher coverage overall, such as Mongolia – the poorest are greatly disadvantaged: only one in ten have access compared with almost all of those in the wealthiest quintile (96%). Similarly, people living in rural areas are less likely to have access to handwashing facilities – as is the case in Afghanistan where they are only half as likely as people in urban areas. Explore the available handwashing data for yourself using the interactive dashboard on handwashing.

The great news is that hygiene is part of the new Sustainable Development Goals and is specifically mentioned together with sanitation in Target 6.2 which by 2030 seeks to ‘achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations’. UN member states still need to select an indicator for handwashing to track progress and ensure these ambitions are properly reflected.And you can join the Global Public-Private Partnership for handwashing campaign to advocate for a handwashing SDG indicator. Over the next few years, data will then continue to be collected in household surveys such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and Demographic and Health Surveys and it will become possible to tell whether and how much the situation has improved. The data will also tell us whether the international community is giving hygiene the attention it most surely deserves.

Explore the interactive dashboard on handwashing:

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Robert Bain is a Statistical Specialist focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene in UNICEF’s Data and Analytics Section in New York.

(From left to right) Mbasa Mengzuva, 14, Gcobisa Maroloma, 12 and Anathi Mlengana, 13 are amongst the best students of the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa.  Each of the three friends has a dream that they hope to achieve through education. Mbasa wants to become a pilot, Anathi – a writer and Gcobisa hopes one day to work with technologies. 

The Bijolo School, providing quality education to over 400 students per year, is part of a project launched in 2005 by the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, with the support of the Schools for Africa initiative and UNICEF. The Nelson Mandela Institute works closely with 120 teachers across Eastern Cape to design, build, distribute and test in their practice pedagogical tools for children in rural areas. As part of the methodology the children are also able to learn in their native Xhosa language, which significantly increased the school results. In addition, the Bijolo School was also entirely rehabilitated and furnished with suitable school material.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda: strengths, weaknesses, and the way ahead

On the evening of July 15th negotiators reached agreement on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Action Agenda outlines an ambitious roadmap for the implementation of the sustainable development goals and will influence the work of governments, development experts and other stakeholders for years to come. We would like to share with you a review of strengths and weaknesses of the document and suggested follow-up activities. The key paragraphs for children are listed at the bottom of the email.  The full Addis Action Agenda can be found here.

Strong points

From development finance to sustainable development finance: With the Addis Action Agenda sustainable and inclusive development truly moves to the centre of development finance. Compared to previous Financing for Development agreements the document outlines a more comprehensive and forward-looking development agenda, including goals to end poverty and hunger, protect the environment, and promote inclusive economic growth and social inclusion (para 1). The Agenda also recognizes the importance of aligning climate, humanitarian and development finance (62-66).

Investing in children is identified as an integral part of the sustainable development agenda: The outcome document (paragraph 7), establishes a clear link between investing in children and the Post-2015 agenda’s overall goal of achieving inclusive and sustainable growth (‘we recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations’). Contrary to previous agreements of Monterrey and Doha, children are no longer viewed as passive recipients of social support but as agents of future growth and development.

A ‘holistic’ approach to achieving wellbeing for children: The Action Agenda makes progress by recognizing the multidimensionality of poverty. It also outlines an approach to child wellbeing that extends far beyond what would normally be expected of a document primarily concerned with questions of development finance. Several paragraphs make reference to ‘systemic’ issues, such as enforcing respect of children’s rights in the private and business sector (37), rights of child migrants (111) and tackling violence against children (112). These references complement multiple commitments to invest in basic services and social protection ‘floors’ with a specific focus on the needs of children, youth, and other ‘vulnerable’ groups (12, 77, 78, 114).

Improved data and monitoring: Member States agree to ‘increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age’, and other socioeconomic categories relevant in national contexts (126). Signatories also pledge to support civil registration and vital statistics systems and to ensure broad access to the tools necessary to turn data into useful, actionable information (128). These commitments will help continue the data revolution for children which –in many countries- effectively started with the systematic collection of administrative data and surveys like MICS, DHS and Living Standard Measurement Surveys. In addition, the Agenda makes progress by shifting the focus to data literacy, better integration of different data sources, and improved use of evidence for policy making.

Three students from the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Three students from the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3304/Miltcheva


FfD – Means of Implementation for the SDGs? With negotiations on SDG goals and targets progressing in parallel, FfD was increasingly expected to provide a strong working definition of the Means Of Implementation for the SDG agenda. Does the outcome document deliver on this goal? Yes and no. On the one hand, developing countries managed to inscribe references to international coordination and financial and technical support in areas like fighting corruption and illicit finance, scaling up infrastructure investments, and knowledge and technology transfer. On the other hand developed countries often pushed back firmly against the creation of new and potentially costly institutional mechanisms and partnerships for the SDGs. The result is often vague language to ‘explore’ (rather than ‘implement’) new partnerships.[1] The document is also studded with commitments to address developing country concerns through existing institutions and coordination bodies, such as the IMF, World Bank Group. Whether these commitments will be sufficient to bridge political divides in FfD will depend on the extent to which future reforms move beyond the current status quo to allow developing countries greater participation in the governance mechanisms of these institutions.

Spending commitments: Addis was never meant to be a pledging conference; however, what was agreed remained below expectations of even seasoned negotiators (including in particular the Addis co-chairs). Ambitious numeric targets on domestic spending, tax collection and ODA included in the first (‘zero’) draft were struck down in the early phases of negotiations by a large coalition of developed and developing countries. Most targets are now expressed in non-numeric terms and are thus harder to monitor (e.g. paras on domestic tax reform). Others are formulated as voluntary commitments. For example for ODA, one of the few remaining numeric targets, the document ‘reaffirms the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI’ and ‘welcomes’ the unilateral decision by the European Union to do so within the time frame of the post-2015 agenda. ODA targets to Least Developed Countries further remain below the current share of approximately a third of total ODA allocated to LDCs (the document speaks of allocating 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to LDCs).

Illicit finance and tax cooperation: Developing countries fought long and hard to rectify illicit outflows of resources and tax evasion by calling for a new and stronger UN body for tax coordination that would allow for stronger representation of developing countries’ interests than existing mechanisms within the OECD. The deal they got – an increased frequency of meetings of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters of two meetings a year – falls behind this target. However, it is worth noting that also developing countries resisted new commitments to raise domestic tax to GDP ratios or make the use of public revenues more effective and equitable (for example, a commitment to phase out harmful fuel subsidies was only adopted after long and painful discussions). Looking forward, progress on tax matters will require stronger political commitments from both developed and developing countries.

Lack of concrete information on the interaction between ODA and climate and humanitarian finance: Although environmental and humanitarian concerns are addressed head-on in the Action Agenda, negotiators were often cautious not to forestall debates with more direct mandates on these issues, including the COP 21 in Paris and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. This left gaps on important questions, such as whether the international public response to climate change and humanitarian disasters would be financed from ODA or additional resources and the appropriate level of burden sharing between developed and developing countries. As it stands, the Addis document outlines broad principles of climate, development and humanitarian finance, with more concrete agreements and commitments to follow from the climate and humanitarian tracks of Post-2015 negotiations.

What’s next?

Once negotiations have concluded on the parallel track on SDG goals and targets, attention will shift to the country level. UNICEF can make progress here by focusing advocacy and support on nationally appropriate targets and implementation plans. Without claim for completeness, at least four priorities can come to mind:

  • Identify domestic investment plans and spending targets that reach beyond general commitments identified by the Addis action agenda: Through UNICEF’s work with governments, we know that increased investments in children’s development are possible, even in environments with constrained fiscal space. UNICEF country teams can build on these experiences to advocate for strong national commitments to invest in essential services for children. Sharing of experiences and information across countries can also encourage reforms within practical reach of governments.
  • Support child-focused data collection and analysis: The need for improved data and monitoring is now widely acknowledged among relevant actors. Resulting political support should be used to advocate for the closing of remaining data gaps. In countries that are already well into the data revolution the priority is probably not the collection of just more data, but of improved analysis and integration of existing data sets. For example, UNICEF in the context of FfD could engage more in the integrated analysis of administrative and household expenditure data to better understand the distribution of the benefits of public spending across relevant groups and children. Other important aspects include improved disaggregation of poverty data by gender and age at country and global levels. Joint work in these areas is already ongoing in the World Bank and UNICEF.
  • Mainstream work in country offices around FfD and the SDGs objectives: Existing UNICEF country programmes provide several entry points for child-related priorities identified in the Action Agenda. For example, policy advice and budget analysis leverages and fosters equity-focused public investments in children; advocacy for child rights under the CRC relates to FfD commitments for children around private finance and migration; while future work under the planned global Child Protection partnership will address violence against children head-on. All of these actions can be aligned and, where necessary, reinforced to directly support national FfD and SDG implementation plans.
  • Explore new and innovative approaches to raise additional resources for children: The organization already works on several innovative approaches to expand available financing for children. Examples where UNICEF is actively participating include the Bridge Fund of the US Fund for UNICEF to accelerate access to life-saving assistance to children in need around the world, and Power of Nutrition, which is a catalytic fund to scale-up finance from public-private sources for high-impact nutrition programmes in collaboration with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation as lead and the World Bank. In addition, UNICEF is working with key partners and the World Bank, such as in the country-based Water Finance Facilities (water banks). This instrument aims to pool investment opportunities or “blended funding” (domestic public and private with international public resources, including loans, grants, bonds, tariff and taxes) for WASH programmes.

By Olav Kjorven, Director of Public Partnerships Division; Nalinee Nippita, Senior Adviser, Multilateral & Intergovernmental Partnerships; and Frank-Borge Wietzke, Public Partnership Specialist.


Key paragraphs on children in the Addis Action Agenda
1 – Opening paragraph: sustainable growth and children. “We will promote peaceful and inclusive societies and advance fully towards an equitable global economic system in which no country or person is left behind, enabling decent work and productive livelihoods for all, while preserving the planet for our children and future generations.”

7 – Investing in children. “We recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations, and we recognize the need to support countries that face particular challenges to make the requisite investments in this area. We reaffirm the vital importance of promoting and protecting the rights of all children, and ensuring that no child is left behind.”
12 – Social protection and essential public services for all. “To end poverty in all its forms everywhere and finish the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, we commit to a new social compact. In this effort, we will provide fiscally sustainable and nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, with a focus on those furthest below the poverty line and the vulnerable, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, children, youth and older persons.”

37 –Child labor issues and Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We will foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of the ILO, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to these agreements.”

77 – Multi-stakeholder partnerships for health, including for women and children. “We welcome innovative approaches to catalyse additional domestic and international private and public resources for women and children, who have been disproportionately affected by many health issues, including the expected contribution of the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman, Every Child.”

78 – Education. “We recognize the importance for achieving sustainable development of delivering quality education to all girls and boys. This will require reaching children living in extreme poverty, children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, and those in conflict and post-conflict situations, and providing safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all. We will scale up investments and international cooperation to allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education, including through scaling-up and strengthening initiatives, such as the Global Partnership for Education. We commit to upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and increasing the percentage of qualified teachers in developing countries, including through international cooperation, especially in least developed countries and Small Island Developing States.”

111 – Migrants. “We reaffirm the need to promote and protect effectively the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, especially those of women and children, regardless of their migration status.”

112 – Violence. “We will strengthen regional, national and subnational institutions to prevent all forms of violence, combat terrorism and crime, and end human trafficking and exploitation of persons, in particular women and children, in accordance with international human rights law.”

114 – Access to technology and science. “We will promote access to technology and science for women, youth and children. We will further facilitate accessible technology for persons with disabilities.”

126 – Disaggregated data by age. “We will seek to increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age, geography, income, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”

A young girl from Bangladesh smiles as her uncle picks her up.

Global Governance 2.0: insights from former Australian Premier

A young girl from Bangladesh smiles as her uncle picks her up.

A young girl from Bangladesh smiles as her uncle picks her up. © UNICEF/UNI175476a/Noorani

Is there a future for the UN in a fast evolving landscape of new global challenges (as well as some old unsolved ones) and growing number of other multilateral institutions?

Yes, said Kevin Rudd, Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism and former Prime Minister of Australia. The Honorable Kevin Rudd recently came to UNICEF to debate the future of multilateralism with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and a large audience, as part of UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders series.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, with Kevin Rudd.

UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, with Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, Kevin Rudd. (c) UNICEF/2015/Kania Azrina

Calling the UN “the Parliament of Humankind,” Kevin Rudd was clear: “we should remind ourselves of why the institution itself is inherently valuable. We should cherish what we have. We have been handed by those who have come before us a fragile institution. If it falls apart, it will be extraordinarily difficult to reconstitute anything of its kind.”

In his view, the UN is doing an “extraordinarily bad job” at explaining what it achieves. Hence, Mr. Rudd insisted “for the UN to have a future, we must recapture the imagination of the human family… not just in their hearts, but also in their heads through the record of achievement on the ground.” How? By investing in public relations. There needs to be a much more substantive investment in telling the wider public what it is that the UN does for peace, security and development.

At the same time, Mr. Rudd was realistic: often a swift action on emerging global challenges requires a smaller coalition of the willing and those who have influence. Just think of the global economic crisis. It required a smaller group of major players (the G20) who could take rapid decisions to avert the crisis. Similarly, he was optimistic about the international community reaching a climate change deal in Paris in December. Why? There is a clear commitment that China, India and the US have demonstrated in recent months, which is in turn creating a momentum for a global deal.

Reflecting on the ambitious task ahead – the Sustainable Development Goals – Mr. Rudd wasted no time on pondering where the funding would come from. He suggested to put global private capital to greater use in development, particularly to finance the infrastructure in developing countries. The international community should construct a deal whereby private capital takes on infrastructure projects in developing countries, often an underpinning challenge for development of any kind.  The governments’ role would then be to finance the gap between the real return on investment and the minimum required to attract private capital. Mr. Rudd believed this would “turbocharge” the development agenda. How sustainable would this be in the long term, one may ask? It is an interesting idea to consider, which perhaps deserves a separate conversation altogether.

These are just some of the takeaways from the insightful Conversation with Kevin Rudd on the future of multilateralism. A need for a rolling policy research capacity at the UN to capture lessons learned and a global summit on people’s flows were some of the other ideas he put on the table.

Want to learn more? View the full Conversation here and let us know what you think!

This discussion took place on 10 July 2015 as part of UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders series. Yulia Oleinik is a Policy Officer in the Policy Planning Unit, Division of Data, Research and Policy at UNICEF.

In Bangladesh, Chaya Rani (left) adds Sprinkles, a micronutrient powder (MNP), to food for her 15-month-old daughter.

Refocusing on equity in our pursuit of stunting reduction

In Bangladesh, Chaya Rani (left) adds Sprinkles, a micronutrient powder (MNP), to food for her 15-month-old daughter.

In Bangladesh, Chaya Rani (left) adds Sprinkles, a micronutrient powder (MNP), to food for her 15-month-old daughter. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1962/Noorani

The importance of addressing stunting for children, their families and their communities, is receiving increasing attention and recognition. In 2012, at the World Health Assembly, national governments committed to achieving a 40% reduction in the number of children under 5 years of age who are stunted by 2025. Stunting is also likely to be reflected in the new Sustainable Development Goals.

So, what is the current state of progress towards the reduction of stunting?

Stunting — when a child is too short for his or her age — represents much more than just growth failure. During the first 1,000 days of life — spanning the period from the initial stage of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday — nutritional deficits can irreversibly damage health, growth and development.

More and more evidence links nutritional deprivation in childhood with limited physical growth, brain development, and reduced income earning capacity in adulthood. For example, a study published in the medical journal The Lancet showed that stunting is associated with 2.9 deficit in school grades (even higher in the context of poverty), which can translate to a 22% loss of yearly income in adulthood.

Also, nutritional deprivations early in life may have long-term health consequences — increasing the risk of becoming overweight and developing non-communicable diseases later in life.

Fortunately, progress is being made. As we highlighted in our UNICEF report, Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress, several countries have been able to demonstrate success in stunting reduction, and at scale. We have an arsenal of high-impact interventions that can rapidly bring about improvements in nutritional status.

Globally, the prevalence of stunting among children under the age of 5 is steadily declining (from 40% in 1990 to 25% in 2013); and this decline in prevalence has occurred across all regions. The number of stunted children is also decreasing globally, although in Sub-Saharan Africa the number of stunted children is actually increasing.

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Yet, despite global improvements, we see concerning trends in inequalities in stunting: the poor remain much more likely to be stunted than their wealthier counterparts. When we look at trends over time, relative inequalities in stunting are actually declining in only a handful of countries. As shown in the visualization below, and on our website at data.unicef.org/nutrition, in most countries stunting inequalities persist or are actually increasing over time.

The interactive data visualization platform shows stunting data across wealth quintiles from 249 national surveys in 105 countries. The patterns of inequalities vary greatly between countries and across time. In many countries, success in stunting reduction is being driven by more rapid declines in stunting among the rich.

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What does this mean for our current and future efforts to reduce stunting?

First, we need a better understanding of how improvements in stunting are being achieved and which interventions or changes are contributing to stunting reduction. Importantly, we need to be more systematic in using disaggregated data to understand whether the most disadvantaged are benefiting at the same or greater rate compared to those that are better-off.

Second, we need to maintain an equity-focused approach to stunting reduction. As we pursue our global and national stunting targets, we also need to think more carefully about equity, and how we can achieve results more fairly. Breaking the cycle of malnutrition and poverty will require us to refocus, and keep focused, on the most disadvantaged.

To do this, we need equity-focused situational analyses for nutrition that identify disadvantaged groups, by wealth and other markers of disadvantage. These analyses should be used to inform the design of programme strategies across relevant sectors that seek to reach these groups with appropriate interventions. By using an equity-focused approach to monitoring and evaluation, which identifies and removes bottlenecks, programme performance can be continuously improved—ensuring that target populations are effectively reached, and benefit.

Third, we need to consider why inequalities exist and address the determinants and drivers of inequalities. Inequalities in stunting matter because they are unfair: they result from unjust social arrangements and distribution of resources in societies. We need to find and implement strategies that can systematically address these problems.

Stunted children start off on a track that perpetuates inequity and disadvantage—affecting their future wellbeing and crippling the development of nations. By investing in child nutrition early in life, we can break the cycle of inequity and we can stop these injustices extending into adulthood and across generations.

Improving child nutrition early in life, especially for the most disadvantaged, is the key to giving every child the best possible—and fair and equal—start in life.

Werner Schultink is Chief of Nutrition based at UNICEF HQ in New York.

On 27 March, girls carry buckets filled with water, in the Kwanaya camp for internally displaced people, outside Yola, the capital of Adamawa, a state in the country’s north-east. UNICEF supports the operation of a small clinic and helps maintain a supply of fresh drinking water in the camp.

In March 2015 in Nigeria, 15.5 million people, including 7.3 million children, are affected by the continuing crisis in the country’s north-eastern region. More than 1.2 million Nigerians have fled their homes as a result of violence and attacks by Boko Haram insurgents that have escalated since the beginning of 2015. Many of the displaced, most of whom are children and women, are sheltering with in host communities that have limited resources, and in formal and informal camps. All are in urgent need basic supplies, health and nutrition services, and critical water sanitation and hygiene support to prevent the spread of disease. Over 150,000 people – the vast majority children and women – have also fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, further straining vulnerable communities – some of which are already facing food insecurity and malnutrition, are prone to disease outbreaks and natural disasters, and often already host hundreds of thousands of refugees, returnees and migrants who have escaped violence and hardship throughout the region. The impact of the crisis on children and women is of particular concern. Many of them have lost their homes and belongings –escaping with only the clothing they were wearing; and some have walked for days – or even weeks – to find refuge. Many children in the region have been traumatized and are in need of psychosocial support. They have witnessed violence and atrocities, including seeing parents and siblings slaughtered by Boko Haram insurgents; and have been exposed to or have experienced violence and brutality. Their homes have been burned and their schools have been damaged or destroyed during the attacks. The insu

5 things you need to know about sanitation & drinking water

School children in India wash their hands prior to the mid-day meals. © UNICEF/INDA2011-00484/Vishwanathan

School children in India wash their hands prior to the mid-day meals. © UNICEF/INDA2011-00484/Vishwanathan

2015 is the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and it is also a time to reflect on progress made during the MDG era. The MDGs challenged the global community to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation between 1990 and 2015.

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation was established in 1990 and has monitored changes in national, regional and global coverage ever since. The latest JMP report, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment, looks at how far we have come in the past 25 years and how far we still have to go to achieve universal access post-2015.

Here’s what you need to know:

Since 1990…

1. There have been huge gains in access to drinking water – 2.6 billion people have gained access to an improved drinking water source since 1990, and 91 per cent of the global population now uses an improved drinking water source compared to 76 per cent in 1990. An improved drinking water source is defined as one that is protected from outside contamination. These gains happened as the world’s population increased by 2 billion people from 5.3 billion in 1990 to 7.3 billion in 2015.

2. Progress has been much slower when it comes to sanitation – One third of the world’s population – 2.4 billion people – still do not have access to an improved sanitation facility, one that separates human waste from human contact. Almost a billion people (946 million) do not use any sanitation facility and defecate out in the open, in fields, bushes or bodies of water. This practice, referred to as open defecation, contaminates the environment affecting entire communities and it has been linked to childhood stunting.

3. Progress has been uneven – Where you live makes a difference. Nine out of ten people practicing open defecation and eight out of ten people without an improved drinking-water source live in rural areas. People living in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are particularly disadvantaged, even more so if they are poor. Meanwhile, almost all developed countries have universal access to drinking water and sanitation.

4. Data have been crucial to measuring advances and revealing insights – The JMP has monitored progress on access to water and sanitation since 1990. It has also presented data that have brought to light inequalities between various groups, including urban and rural residents, the gender burden of water collection, and the persistent exclusion of the poor from water and sanitation services. Robust and disaggregated data, insightful analysis and compelling presentation will be crucial as we transition to the Sustainable Development Goals and work towards a future where no one is left behind.

5. Water & sanitation have been fundamental to sustainable development – Without water, sanitation and hygiene, people, countries and entire economies suffer. Women spend large amounts of time fetching water and are often put at risk in the process, people are too ill to work and be productive, and millions of children die from preventable pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease. Water and sanitation are also fundamental to the realization of other human development goals.

How has your country been progressing in the areas of water and sanitation? How many more people now have access to piped water and to what extent has open defecation decreased since 1990? An interactive dashboard created by UNICEF’s Data and Analytics section shows the latest data at the country level on improved water and sanitation around the world from 1990–2015. Since national averages often hide differences, the data is shown as a total and also broken down by urban and rural areas. Data are drawn from the latest JMP report.

Explore the interactive data visualization yourself:

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Tom Slaymaker is a Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist in the Data & Analytics Section, Division of Data, Research and Policy, UNICEF HQ

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Toward better investments in children in Latin America

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© UNICEF El Salvador/Bell

When someone says that investing in children is important to ensure their rights are fulfilled, to reduce inequality and to build more democratic societies, politicians nod their heads in agreement without hesitation. However, to actually see such priorities reflected in public budgets is another story…

Despite feeling the impacts of the global crisis, most governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have continued to increase social spending in general, and on children in particular. And not only have they increased the size of allocations dedicated to children, but they have also made concerted efforts to invest better.

Latin America has been a pioneer in measuring public investments in children. However, some countries in the region still don’t know how much of their public budgets are directed to persons under 18. If the old business adage that “only what is measured can be improved” is true, then quantifying child-focused spending is a necessary condition to monitor its evolution, determine its (in)adequacy and assess whether the lives of children are improving (or not).

In May 2015, representatives from 21 LAC countries congregated in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the importance of sufficient, timely and equitable investments in children and adolescents. The international seminar, Investing in Children in LAC: Toward more effective and equitable investment in children, was the third organized by UNICEF, following Bogota in 2013 and Lima in 2014. These recurring events focus on addressing the need to systematically and regularly measure public investments in children as well as strengthen the quality of spending. For example, whether public funds are used to paint schools or train teachers will have very different impacts on the lives of children.

Advancing public policy takes time. This series of workshops has enabled participants to share and learn from the experiences of others in this arena, and have further helped clarify the definition of Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires State Parties to utilize “the maximum extent of their available resources” for the realization of child rights.

Today we can say that LAC countries acknowledge the ethical, economic and political arguments in favour of investing in children, but above all, that they act accordingly. From greater child-focused allocations in Ecuador and Peru, to a specific earmark for children in Mexico’s annual budget process, to routine measurement in Guatemala and Honduras, examples abound.

That is why we keep working on three fronts. First, to understand the efforts that States dedicate – through public budgets – to fulfil child rights in all societies across LAC. Second, to deepen analyses, especially in terms of the quality and effectiveness of spending, where measurement is regularly taking place. And finally, to showcase LAC experiences globally and fuel advocacy for more and better investments in children in all regions.

In terms of the latter, the Quito discussions are informing the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, a high-level event being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 13-16 July 2015, which aims to secure the financial resources required to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, the Government of Ecuador is hosting a side event to share LAC’s experience around funding child-focused programmes.

The forthcoming, new international development framework will only be as good as the underlying financing commitments. As a result, now is the time for Latin America to demonstrate to the world that measuring, monitoring and improving public investments in children is feasible and the cornerstone to fulfilling their rights.

Joaquín González-Alemán and Gerardo Escaroz are, respectively, Social Policy Regional Adviser and Specialist at the UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office.

A woman from Madhya Pradesh, India, holds her three-day-old child. Despite being one of the most mineral rich states in India, Madhya Pradesh is one of the poorest with 40% of its population living in poverty. © UNICEF/INDA2013-00389/Romana

Child poverty indicators can help end global poverty

A woman from Madhya Pradesh, India, holds her three-day-old child. Despite being one of the most mineral rich states in India, Madhya Pradesh is one of the poorest with 40% of its population living in poverty. © UNICEF/INDA2013-00389/Romana

A woman from Madhya Pradesh, India, holds her three-day-old child. Despite being one of the most mineral rich states in India, Madhya Pradesh is one of the poorest with 40% of its population living in poverty. © UNICEF/INDA2013-00389/Romana

Eradicating child poverty is one the world’s most important and urgent tasks. Whilst substantial progress has been made in reducing poverty globally, disaggregated data shows that many children are being left behind. The latest disaggregated monetary poverty figures show that children represent nearly half of the world’s extreme poor struggling to survive on less than $1.25 a day.

Many more grow up deprived of their basic needs and rights: 247 million children – or two out of every three children – in 30 sub-Saharan countries are still deprived of two or more deprivations in areas such as water, housing, education, and health which every child needs to survive, develop and thrive.

But child poverty is not just a challenge for children living in the world’s poorest countries and regions of the world. It is estimated that 76 million children live in poverty in the world’s most developed countries, a number that has increased as a consequence of the economic recession affecting most of the developed world. Today, more than ever, child poverty is a universal challenge that requires a global response.

We must do better for our children. Efforts to end poverty and promote inclusive societies cannot succeed when so many children are denied the opportunity to grow free from fear, deprivation and want. Concerned about the devastating effects of poverty on children has brought a new coalition of partners together working to end child poverty. We believe that helping children avoid poverty and overcoming its damaging effects would make a huge difference to their lives, and those of their families, communities and societies.

World leaders set to include an explicit focus to reduce child poverty for the first time
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the set of eight Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015 and will be a central part of the UN’s development agenda for the next 15 years. The new development agenda has set a clear roadmap for ending poverty and promoting social inclusion worldwide by 2030 that includes child poverty for the first time.

As part of the future development goals proposed to end poverty in all its forms, current proposals by Member States include a target to at least halve child poverty in all its dimensions. The proposed Target 1.2 reads as follows: by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.

For the first time, the global community has recognized the centrality of children to deliver on their promise to end poverty once and for all, and the need to ensure children are counted in the new post-2015 development goals. It also recognizes the multidimensional aspects of poverty, which matter hugely for the poorest and most deprived children around the world.

Child poverty is measurable and the proposed targets can be monitored using existing data
Given that child poverty is a new focus on the global development goals to end poverty by 2030, the partners in the coalition have outlined specific recommendations to measure progress towards this global goal as part of the new monitoring framework of the post-2015 development agenda. Since the new target explicitly includes children as part of the goal to end poverty, using specific child poverty indicators should be the first step.

Most experts now recognize that poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, and the coalition recommends both monetary and multidimensional indicators to measure child poverty in the new SDGs. This is particularly important to measure poverty for children, who often experience poverty as the deprivation on the very real aspects of their lives.

Nearly every country in the world uses household surveys to produce poverty statistics. These data can be readily applied to monitor child poverty using monetary and multidimensional approaches in the new framework, and identify global and national child poverty rates according to these different dimensions. An increasing number of countries and organizations have already taken this approach, which can support Member States frame the new indicators to help reduce child poverty as part of the SDGs.

So, please read the policy brief here and let us know what you think on twitter (@AntonioFranco__ and @UNICEFSocPolicy) or in the comments below.

Antonio Franco Garcia is an Economic and Social Policy Consultant at UNICEF HQ

3-year-old Shahd, whose family has been displaced from the conflict-affected city of Mosul, fills a mug with water flowing from a pipe, in the Khazar transit camp in  Erbil, Iraq. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0854/Khuzaie

Water is a right, water is life

3-year-old Shahd, whose family has been displaced from the conflict-affected city of Mosul, fills a mug with water flowing from a pipe, in the Khazar transit camp in  Erbil, Iraq. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0854/Khuzaie

3-year-old Shahd, whose family has been displaced from the conflict-affected city of Mosul, fills a mug with water flowing from a pipe, in the Khazar transit camp in Erbil, Iraq. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0854/Khuzaie

If you were to ask me what I dream about, I’d probably say watching my beloved Netherlands score the winning goal in the World Cup or having a weekend to myself without work. Those dreams were put in perspective recently.

Last week, I visited the ‘Water for Life Voices’ exhibition in the lobby of the UN Headquarters. It charts the progress the world has made in providing water and sanitation to millions of children, women and communities in the last decade. And it does so through people’s voices.

In one poster, Munsie Tampo, a village chief in Ngaliema, Democratic Republic of Congo says, “I actually had a dream that clean water came to our village. It’s something we’ve wished for such a long time now.”

That people still dream of getting something as simple as water is shocking. It’s unjust and unacceptable.

Chief Tampo isn’t alone though. Around the world, nearly 750 million people still don’t have access to improved water sources. Nearly 2 billion people drink water from a source that’s faecally contaminated. These people are the most impoverished and the least resilient. They face the greatest challenges. They live in urban slums and rural villages. They’re trapped in conflict zones. They’re indigenous populations.

Mariam,  her sister Zeinabou and her brother Salimoussa wash clothes at a river in Gao, Mali © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0620/Phelps

Mariam, her sister Zeinabou and her brother Salimoussa wash clothes at a river in Gao, Mali © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0620/Phelps

Despite significant progress — since 1990, over 2 billion people have gained access to an improved source of drinking water; and between 1990-2012, almost 2 billion gained access to a latrine, flush toilet or other improved sanitation facility — the world is still failing millions of people, especially women and children.

Every day, nearly 1,000 children under five die from preventable diarrhoeal diseases attributable to poor sanitation, poor hygiene or unsafe drinking water.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to be announced later this year — must not fail them. The SDGs must put the needs of the most vulnerable at their core, including their needs for water, sanitation and hygiene.

Achieving goal 6 of the proposed SDGs — ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all — is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Water, sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of the SDGs. They’re critical foundation blocks of development everywhere.

Think about it. How can we keep girls in school and reap the benefits of educating them if they drop out for want of toilets or water to keep themselves clean? How can we stop stunting if repeated bouts of diarrhoea, caused by unsafe drinking water, rob children of the nutrients they need to strengthen their minds and bodies? How can women seek and keep jobs when they have to collect water for hours every day? Estimates suggest that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water. That’s the same as a whole year of labour by France’s entire workforce.

Factograph 2

That’s why we must expand access to water and sanitation beyond the home to schools…health clinics…and public places.

This year to celebrate World Water Day, millions of people have joined a social media campaign to tell the world what ‘#WaterIs’ to them. For those who can access water and sanitation, water is ‘dignity’ or ‘nutrition.’ For those less fortunate, it’s ‘keeping me out of school’ or it’s ‘time-consuming.’

For all, it’s a right.

But without action, rights are just words on paper. We must turn these rights into results for the most vulnerable. So please support #WaterIs and raise awareness of the importance of water, not only for survival but for sustainable futures for us all. Share the link with your friends. Tweet about what #WaterIs to you.

A woman from Bangladesh, part of the Water for Life Voices exhibition, said it best.

“If we get safe water, that’s the real medication for us. Water is life.”

Let’s heed her words, carry her message and work together to make water and sanitation a reality for all.

Yoka Brandt is a UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.

Children practice dancing with recitations in Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2014-01664/Mawa

Invest in children’s futures; invest in Early Childhood Development

Investment and Early Childhood Development (ECD) are both about the future. Investment is about transferring today’s purchasing power to the future, with an expectation for positive returns. ECD is about the foundation for individual and societal progress that has an economic and social payback for all.

Both need vision and forward thinking.

However that is where the similarities might end, because globally investment in ECD is extremely limited.

There is compelling and credible evidence that the early years of a child’s life are the foundation for individuals, families, communities and building sustainable societies. Rigorous economic analyses have modelled both the returns on investment and cost of inaction when it comes to early intervention programmes.

ECD programmes can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by establishing equality in adult earnings. For example, research from Jamaica has shown the power of ECD for highly vulnerable children, who ended up closing the earning gap between themselves and their more advantaged peers. This result was not seen for the vulnerable children who did not receive the ECD intervention.

But despite the voluminous evidence, programmes for young children and families are among the most underfunded.

Children practice dancing with recitations in Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2014-01664/Mawa

Children practice dancing with recitations in Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2014-01664/Mawa

Government or public funding for ECD, typically comes from two sectors – health and education. In general, in developing countries it is estimated at less than 5% of GDP is allocated to education and on average 2% to health*. Programmes for young children and families receive only a very marginal proportion of health and education spending. While the exact percentages are not calculated, it is estimated that on average 0.5% of this are directed towards children.

The other source of investment in ECD is private sector funding. This source is not homogenous and consists of money and contributions from individuals, households, community members, business and philanthropy. Typically the family and household contribution to ECD is in the form of user fees.

Business investment is both for provision of programmes, e.g., preschools, and more recently social impact bonds for financing social services. Philanthropy is a significant source of funding for ECD. However, this category is quite diverse, with some funders supporting individual projects and others forming part of larger organizational level partnerships, with a joint agenda.

For UNICEF, one such key partner is the H&M Conscious Foundation. Working together with us to encourage an increased financial investment in ECD, the Foundation is supporting 3 countries – Chile, Montenegro and South Africa – to develop strong national investment cases for ECD. These, in turn, will be used to advocate for increased government budget allocations for services for young children. These countries represent geographic and demographic diversity and level of maturity of their ECD programmes, and the final results of this work are anticipated in 2016.

This partnership also has an important role to play in demonstrating the value of partnerships in supporting sustainable programmes, particularly for the post-2015 development agenda. On December 4th the UN Secretary General released his synthesis report The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet. The finance architecture laid out in the synthesis report presents a very different model for financing the SDGs compared to the MDGs. There is a stronger role for private sector with national to support development.

ECD, as presented in the report, is part of the new transformational agenda as a clear strategy for investment in “People.” This offers an opportunity to engage a wider range of investors in ECD.

Investment is a commitment, it is about making choices based on a set of values and the willingness to pay for them. As of now, ECD does not appear to be a priority for public, private or civil society investment, except for a few investors. If we are to increase investment in ECD, we need to make a stronger investment case and highlight noteworthy partnerships that can provide exemplars for supporting programmes, and ultimately, all young children.

Pia Rebello Britto is the Senior Adviser on Early Childhood Development ar UNICEF HQ in New York.


*Please note that an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that in developing countries it is estimated that less than 5% of government budgets are allocated to education and on average 2% to health. Those figures refer to GDP and not governmental budgets.

Children in Mali eat the midday meal offered at their school.

Preparing to tackle child poverty globally: three goals for 2015

Children in Mali eat the midday meal offered at their school.

Children in Mali eat the midday meal offered at their school. © UNICEF/PFPG2013P-0030/Dicko

In an earlier post, I discussed the renewed emphasis on child poverty in the new development goals over the past year, and why this was a crucial development for children and societies.

The year ahead will be equally important as Member States finalise the new global agenda, including the measurable indicators to track progress, and guide the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this context three key issues we see for the year ahead:

1. Maintain the inclusion of children in the poverty goal

While the centrality of poverty to the overall goals is beyond question, and so far no member states have held a reservation against the goal or the language around children, in complex intergovernmental processes language can change quickly and with unintended consequences.

So while things are looking very hopeful, we must work to support the understanding of Member States of the importance of measuring and addressing child poverty.

 2. Include indicators of child poverty in the SDGs

In the coming year, the conversation around the SDGs is going to swing crucially towards developing the indicators by which the goals will be monitored nationally and internationally. An important input into this process is an excellent and comprehensive report on Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for the SDGs by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The report does a heroic job of reducing the 169 targets to 100 suggested indicators including extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25), national poverty lines, and crucially recognizes multidimensional poverty. It makes a strong case for child poverty to be measured using these indicators and highlights the importance of age disaggregation, including reference to UNICEF’s MODA methodology, for capturing multidimensional child poverty.

With children explicitly mentioned in the target, a clear focus on child poverty measures in the final indicators will be vital to support Member States assessing and addressing child poverty when the SDGs are implemented.

3. Provide the tools and resources to support the implementation of an agenda to end child poverty

Once the goals, targets, and indicators are in place, effective implementation will be crucial. This will be particularly important for an area such as child poverty, which was not explicitly included as part of the MDG framework.

However, while child poverty may be new to the global goals, there is a wealth of experience in countries as diverse as Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and the New Zealand of nationally led processes of both identifying and responding to child poverty.

UNICEF is one among many partners supporting governments in these efforts.  To prepare for implementation of the SDGs we need to work in partnership to bring together the tools, resources and experiences to provide governments coordinated support to measure and respond to child poverty.

Getting involved

We would love to hear from you directly on priorities for children in poverty for the year ahead, either in the comments below or on twitter (@dmistewart1 or @UNICEFSocPol). To engage directly on the SDGs on child poverty do join the World We Want conversation on children and Post-2015.


David Stewart is the Chief of Child Poverty and Social Protection at UNICEF HQ.