Concerns Over Effect of Poor Sanitation On Children

( [email protected] ) Jun 26, 2003 01:23 PM EDT

Unsafe water and poor sanitation is killing almost 55 children in Mozambique every day, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned.
The agency said the country already had one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, with 246 out of every 1,000 children dying within their first five years. Thirteen percent of these deaths, which translated into 55 children a day, were caused by diarrhoea that was directly attributable to a lack of access to clean water, proper sanitation and poor hygiene practices.
Conditions contributing to poor water sanitation have included a combination of weather patterns which left areas veering from too little rain, to too much rain, and had also adversely affected crop production and created food shortages.
These food shortages exacerbated the impact of HIV/AIDS and poverty, and with nearly 11 percent of households in affected areas child- or elderly-headed, or caring for a sick adult, such families were especially vulnerable to waterborne diseases.
Malnourished children in particular had weak defences against the ravages of diarrhoea, UNICEF said.
The problem was most severe in rural areas, where only 26 percent of the population had access to clean water and just 29 percent had access to latrines.
A survey conducted last year showed that only 35 percent of households living in affected areas were able to access their water sources within 15 minutes, while 25 percent of households were spending over 60 minutes a day to reach their water source.
Efforts to obtain fresh water placed enormous strains on family members and these chores fell heavily on children, particularly girls, preventing them from attending school. The lack of latrines at schools was also cited as one of the many reasons girls dropped out of school.
To help alleviate the crisis, UNICEF had been running programmes aimed at reducing the number of infant deaths due to diarrhoea, and cutting back on the amount of time used in finding clean water.
The projects, supported the Mozambique government, have included developing a National Water policy; educating the public on sanitation practices; increasing the availability of parts to repair water points; strengthening emergency preparedness and responses; and developing school hygiene programmes.
Michael Klause, UNICEF spokesman in Mozambique, told IRIN that programmes to improve hygiene showed immediate results.
"At the Mafalala resettlement area, latrines were built and there are regular community meetings to discuss hygiene and sanitation, and you can see the hygiene improving," he said.
One of the UN Millennium Goals is to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015.