Every year, waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid claim the lives of millions of children in the developing world. Water- and sanitation-related diseases are one of the major causes of under-five mortality in the world. Every day, around 5,000 children die from diarrhoea-related causes alone.
Children already suffering from poor diets, the ravages of other diseases, and little or no access to clean water are the most vulnerable. Tragically, access to safe, clean water is a luxury for many communities and it is becoming scarcer by the day as climate change dries up the water tables and depletes rainfall, leaving communities to battle the devastating effects of drought.
Caroline, for example, lives in a small village in Uganda, surrounded by lakes. Her family used to rely on the lakes for fish and water, but the lakes contain bilharzia, a waterborne parasite, which if left untreated can lead to life-threatening illnesses. Caroline caught bilharzia twice, which made her stomach bloated and painful, and gave her diarrhoea. UNICEF has since provided rainwater tanks for Caroline’s school and is working to provide alternative safe water sources for her community, meaning that her family no longer relies on the lakes for water and there is less chance of her catching the illness again.
Access to safe water
In southern Madhya Pradesh, India, tribal girls spent up to 3 hours a day collecting and arranging for water. The girls spent more time fetching water than learning and were being denied their right to an education. Now, water is readily available thanks to a programme implemented by UNICEF and its partners, which includes activities such as the harvesting of rainwater and roundabout play pumps, which are carbon-free and pump water with the energy harnessed from children playing on them. This is all monitored by the Water Safety Club made up of tribal school girls.
UNICEF can play an important role in preventing the spread of waterborne diseases by working with communities to implement education and water management programmes using simple, sustainable techniques to put it right for children.