Children account for a large percentage of the income-poor and the severely deprived worldwide. At least 600 million children under the age of 18 around the world are surviving on less than $1 a day; 40 per cent of these children live in developing countries. Every second child in developing countries is deprived of even the minimum opportunities in life.
Deprivation in water and sanitation
A child’s level of access to safe drinking water is a function of her/his poverty status. A study in South Africa showed that in 2006, only 47.1 per cent of poor and 41 per cent of ultra-poor children had access to “running water indoor or on site”, compared with 82 per cent of the non-poor who had such access.
Children without access to adequate water are exposed to substantial health risks, including diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. Lack of access to adequate water is also closely related to poor sanitation and hygiene. In 2004, only 58 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa had access to safe water, the lowest rate in the world. In this region, a baby’s chance of dying from diarrhoea is almost 520 times the chance of a baby in Europe or the United States. According to UNICEF, in countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, four out of five children either use surface water or have to walk more than 15 minutes to find a protected water source, oft en at the expense of school time.
Studies across different countries show that sanitation is one of the major determinants of child survival: the transition from unimproved to improved sanitation combined with hygiene awareness and behaviour change reduces overall child mortality by about a third. Improved sanitation also brings advantages for public health, livelihoods and dignity – advantages that extend beyond households to the general population.
Despite the benefits of access to sanitation services, Africa’s sanitation coverage is lamentably low, with only about 36 per cent of the population having access to adequate facilities. A third of sub-Saharan African countries have coverage rates of 33 per cent or less.74 In 2004, Eritrea had sanitation coverage of only 9 per cent, and only 13 per cent of Ethiopia’s population accessed adequate sanitation facilities.
In some areas, especially in urban slums where basic sanitation is lacking, people have to rise before dawn, making their way in the darkness to fields, railroad tracks and roadsides, where, due to the lack of access to toilets, they defecate in the open, or in plastic bags that are then thrown onto the streets. These bags – so-called “flying toilets”, commonly used in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and in some parts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – highlight what it means to be without sanitary services.
Considering present trends, unless appropriate steps are taken to increase the coverage of water and sanitation services, an additional 133 million African children will have died from diarrhoea by 2015. Universal access to even the most basic water and sanitation facilities would reduce the financial burden on health systems in developing countries by about US$1.6 billion annually – and by US$610 million in sub-Saharan Africa, a saving that represents about 7 per cent of the region’s health budget. Read More