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Jessica Batoure fetches water for her class in Soanga school, north central Burkina Faso. Oxfam Ireland
World Water Day

Unsafe water kills over 1 million children every year – Oxfam

On World Water Day, Oxfam Ireland highlights the need for access to safe water worldwide – with 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone lacking access to safe toilets.

SOME 1.5 MILLION children die every year from diarrhoea because of poor sanitation and hygiene, according to Oxfam Ireland.

Marking World Water Day, chief executive Jim Clarken says that unsafe water is the main reason for these preventable deaths, with 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone lacking access to safe toilets.

“70 per cent of Africans do not have access to a safe toilet” said Clarken. “This is an outrage and one of the main reasons that children in the region are about 16.5 times more likely to before the age of five than children in developed regions.”

Clarken added: “If governments met their obligations to increase spending on water and sanitation we could reduce the number of deaths significantly.”

African governments signed a declaration in 2008 committing themselves to spend at least 0.5 per cent of GDP on sanitation and hygiene. Despite this, just one country, Equatorial Guinea, has since confirmed it has done so.

Clarken said that while more than two billion people had gained access to improved drinking water since 1990, billions still live without proper sanitation facilities. “On current trends, it will take another 200 years for African governments to halve the number of people living without proper sanitation facilities,” he pointed out.

Women and girls, who are made to walk long distances in rural areas and queue for hours in city slums to draw water, bear the biggest burden of unsafe water. More than 1 in 3 women in the world lack access to safe sanitation, with 526 million forced to go to the toilet in the open, which puts them at greater risk of disease and sexual violence.

“We must praise the work of governments and local communities around the world who have prioritised the issue of safe drinking water. But the same amount of energy and resources must go into fighting the problem of sanitation. Otherwise we are condemning hundreds of millions to a life of poverty and violence,” Clarken said.

Unsafe water kills over 1 million children every year – Oxfam
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  • Children celebrate the arrival of clean water in Turkana, northern Kenya. Only 15% of the largely nomadic population of Turkana has a reliable water supply. Credit Kieran Doherty

  • Fatimata Awade drawing water from a well in Natriguel, Mauritania. It was one of the few wells that didn't run dry in last year's drought, which destroyed over 50% of the country's crops. Credit Pablo Tosco

  • Burkina Faso food crisis

  • South Sudanese boys gather at dusk at a water tank built by Oxfam. There have been 6000 cases of Hepatitis E in camps for displaced people since July 2012. Credit Oxfam

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