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World Water Day


Almost three quarters of the earth is covered by water but only one per cent is safe for human consumption.

Deteriorating water quality threatens global gains made towards access to safe drinking water. While almost 5.9 billion people or 87 per cent of the world’s population now have access to an improved drinking water source, the risk of water pollution remains, often due to environmental factors such as increasing urbanization, industrialization and poor sanitation. Also, the quality of drinking water often significantly declines after collection from an improved source, especially in low-income settings where water sources can be distant from people’s homes.

This year’s World Water Day theme, “Clean Water for a Healthy World,” focuses on water quality challenges and solutions. Safe and clean water is increasingly becoming a precious commodity as we continue to pollute our water systems with human, agricultural and industrial waste.

UNICEF’s approach to child survival and development includes ensuring that communities and households have access to drinking water of adequate quantity and quality, as well as good sanitation and hygiene practices.

On 12 December, a small child fills a collapsible jerrycan with safe water at one of several outdoor taps in a Kibati camp for the displaced, near Goma, capital of North Kivu Province. UNICEF is working with the NGO Mercy Corps to distribute water via truck to tens of thousands of displaced people in Kibati and elsewhere. They are also providing water bladders and installing water pipes, as well as constructing latrines and promoting other hygiene interventions to prevent the outeak and spread of disease.  By 15 December 2008 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ongoing fighting between government and rebel forces in eastern North Kivu Province continued to threaten local populations and hinder relief efforts. More than 250,000 people are on the move, including more than 60,000 in camps for the newly displaced in the Kibati area, north of Goma, the provincial capital. Over 1 million people in the province are now displaced, with others fleeing across borders to Uganda and Rwanda. Malnutrition rates and hygiene-related diseases, especially diarrhoea and including cholera, are increasing; children are being recruited or re-recruited into armed groups; and hundreds of others have been separated from their families as they flee outeaks of violence. UNICEF is calling for a cessation to fighting and to the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as for safe access to all vulnerable groups. UNICEF is also working to: provide safe water to camps for the displaced; build latrines to help prevent disease outeaks; supply health centres; support measles immunizations; distribute basic non-food items; and support efforts to reunite children separated from their families. Partners include the Government and major donor countries; other UN agencies; and international NGOs, including Solidarité Internationale, International Medical Corps, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Save the Children UK. UNICEF has requested US $12 million in additional emergency funding to cover immediate needs for three months. Since 1998, an estimated 5 million Congolese, half of them children, have died of conflict-related causes, including disease; an additional 1,200 people die daily from these causes. Life expectancy in the country is 46 years, and 4 million children are orphaned.
“Access to safe water is essential in order for a child to survive and successfully develop the ability to learn, earn and thrive,” said Ms. Clarissa Brocklehurst, UNICEF Chief of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). “The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of all children to the highest attainable standard of health, and specifically the right to safe drinking water,” she added.

Unsafe drinking water is a major cause of waterborne diseases including diarrhea (the second biggest killer of children under five), hepatitis and typhoid. Diarrheal diseases kill more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Children who suffer from these diseases often become locked in a lifelong cycle of recurring illnesses and faltering growth, with irreversible and lasting damage to their development and cognitive abilities.  

Fast Facts

• 2.6 billion people or 39 per cent of the world’s population live without access to improved sanitation. The vast majority live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. • In the developed regions almost the entire population (99 per cent) used improved facilities as compared to 52 per cent in developing regions. • 751 million people share their sanitation facilities with other households or only use public facilities. • 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open. Eleven countries, (India, Indonesia, China, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Nepal, Brazil, Niger and Bangladesh) are home to 81 per cent of them.A sign bearing the UNICEF logo stands near a newly built water tower in the southern village of Froun. The tower, which contains 300 cubic metres of water, was built with support from UNICEF and the NGO Islamic Relief Worldwide. UNICEF has helped repair and reconstruct water towers and reservoirs destroyed during last year's conflict, including restoring 37 water supply systems - benefiting almost 300,000 people - over the past year.  On 12 July 2007 in Lebanon, one year after the war between Israel and Hezbollah (a Lebanon-based political faction), renewed political instability and insecurity continues to impede children's recovery after the crisis. Thousands of children were affected by the 34-day conflict (from 12 July-14 August 2006), which killed an estimated 1,187 people, injured nearly 4,100 and left some 907,000 internally displaced. An additional 150,000 sought temporary refuge in neighbouring Syria. The conflict also significantly damaged infrastructure, including airports, roads, power plants, idges and fuel stations. Ongoing crises over the past several months include bombings throughout the country and conflict and displacement in Palestinian refugee camps in the north. Working with the Government, other UN agencies and NGOs, UNICEF continues to provide psychosocial support and basic counselling for traumatized children, and supports interventions in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, health, education and child protection. UNICEF assistance includes: training counsellors and teachers to identify traumatized children; providing essential learning materials to 400,000 students in 1,400 schools in support of the country's national Back-to-School campaign; establishing child-friendly spaces and securing alternative learning spaces for children as schools are rehabilitated; providing safe water and sanitation facilities for families and communities and promoting hygiene; repairing and reconstructing water supply systems; supporting immunization campaigns; assisting with shelter and other basic services, and supporting mine-risk education programmes and public mine-awareness campaigns warning children of the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXOs). An estimated 1 million UXOs remain undetonated on roads and in homes and fields.