Bad water kills 4,000 children a day


A dead fox has just been removed from a community well in southern Sudan. Unaware of the danger from contamination, the villagers continue to drink the water. They don’t realize they’re risking their lives.

“This water is killing the people,” says John Mamer, a UNICEF water specialist who has taken samples from the polluted well. “But they don’t know, when they are dying, that it is through this water.”

Four thousand children die every day from diseases caused by bad water and sanitation. Some 1.8 million people, mostly children, are killed by diarrhea alone each year. An understanding of basic hygiene would cut the number of these deaths by almost half.

In another village nearby, women and children scrape away sand to collect water from a puddle. In many poor and remote areas, there are no alternative sources of fresh water.

UNICEF is working with local communities to install and maintain wells across the region. Keeping them free from contamination is vital – and so is education.

UNICEF Sanitation Officer Christine Ochieng explains: “Within our system we have a trained number of hygiene promoters within the community. The hygiene promoters move from house to house, educating the mothers about the importance of clean water and also telling them that when they get water from the river, they need to boil and filter it. But in most cases we find that at the end of the day only very few really follow that kind of method.”

Those who do follow the advice reap the benefits. One woman in the village tells Christine how there have been no cases of diarrhea in her community since latrines were built. Without latrines water supplies can become more easily contaminated.

Safe water and good hygiene are the best defense against diarrhea and other water-related diseases.

Also see Dirty water ‘kills 1.5m children’ in Africa and UN urges end to ‘water apartheid’.


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