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Without Access to Clean Water Everyone Suffers –Especially the Young

Photo: Courtesy of UNICEF

Clean water and sanitation are crucial for a healthy life. Despite knowing this need, contaminated water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene affect the health and quality of life of a staggering 2.1 billion people globally. These people are left without access to readily available drinking water at home that is free from contamination. This problem claims lives. Children and their families living in poverty or in emergency situations live on the edge of this truth.

And it’s the youngest members of the community that are affected the most. Over 700 children under five years old die every day from diarrhea linked to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. More than ever, it is crucial for leaders to work together to bring education and innovation to communities in need and empower them with the resources for change — beginning with their children.

When kids bear the burden

Collecting clean water is a burden in many countries, with many families frequently relying on children to fetch water for the household. Many of these children miss out on a chance to go to school because they are trekking long distances to collect clean water. In 61 developing countries, eight out of ten households pass the burden of water collection to women and girls. This journey is not always safe, particularly for girls who are especially vulnerable to attack.

This threat to health worsens beyond the home or school when hospitals and health care centers do not have running water, toilets or soap. Treatment centers become disease factories, and those who come in unwell are lucky to leave feeling better than they arrived.

The communities in most need of help

Within developing countries, access to water, sanitation and hygiene can also vary greatly. People living in rural areas generally have less access. In 2015, 93 percent of the 159 million people who use surface water drawn from lakes, rivers or irrigation channels lived in rural areas.

Around 180 million people living in areas of conflict or unrest do not have access to basic water. In fragile states such as these, people are four times less likely to use basic water services and two times less likely to use basic sanitation services. Children, who are the most vulnerable people in these countries, are less likely to receive treatment for disease or malnutrition because hospitals and health care centers often do not function or are overcrowded with patients. 

Providing clean water, basic toilets and teaching good hygiene practices to people will not only keep them alive and healthy, it also paves the way for other important services like health clinics, vaccination services, nutrition support and emergency education.

Evariste Kouassi Komlan, Senior Adviser, UNICEF, [email protected]

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