|© UNICEF CAR/2008/Holtz|
|Newly appointed UNICEF USA Goodwill Ambassador Joel Madden with children in the town of Sam Ouandja in north-eastern Central African Republic.|
NEW YORK, USA, 10 November 2008 – Saying the situation for children in the Central African Republic (CAR) constitutes a silent emergency, rocker and UNICEF USA Ambassador Joel Madden, today called on his fans and the general public to help put an end to preventable child deaths in countries like CAR – deaths that often result from water-related diarrhoeal disease.
Mr. Madden is back in the United States, having spent a week observing UNICEF programmes in CAR and visiting with vulnerable children in the war-torn country, which is bordered on the north by Chad and Sudan.
“I see 25,000 fans in stadiums we play to regularly. I can visualize that number, and it gives me chills to think that many children under five die every day from preventable causes,” said Mr. Madden, who fronts the rock band Good Charlotte and was named a UNICEF Ambassador this summer. “One major way we can tackle this and help reduce that number to zero is by making sure schools and communities get better access to safe water and sanitation facilities.”
Support for dozens of projects
The provision of safe water and improved sanitation facilities is a priority for UNICEF in CAR, where regional and cross-border conflicts have displaced tens of thousands and left the government ill-equipped to deal with all the challenges facing children.
This past year, UNICEF has supported dozens of water projects, including the repair and maintenance of existing wells and the drilling of hundreds more – all benefiting communities in the north of the country that have been disproportionately affected by violence.
Mr. Madden was joined on the trip to CAR by his brother and fellow band member, Benji, along with UNICEF staff. He was able to speak with numerous children and their families whose lives, already disrupted by armed conflict, continue to be negatively affected by limited or inconsistent access to safe water.
Water and sustainable development
Outside the capital city of Bangui, in the village of Sam Ouanda, Mr. Madden met with the families of 47 children who had succumbed to water-related illnesses. The village borders the Darfur region of Sudan and has been attacked by rebels twice in the past year.
In addition to diarrhoea cause by intestinal parasites found in dirty water, young children and their families who do not have bed nets are susceptible to malaria carried by mosquito vectors bred in stagnant pools of water.
|© UNICEF CAR/2008/Holtz|
|Goodwill Ambassador Joel Madden plays with children between visits to UNICEF-supported water and health projects in the Central African Republic.|
“Without access every day to clean water, sustainable development is impossible,” UNICEF Representative in CAR Mahimbo Mdoe said, noting that water-supply problems mean it’s “just a dream” for displaced families to return to their home villages. “We are facing a huge infrastructure deficit and we are struggling to get more and more support,” he added.
Mr. Madden’s trip comes at a timely moment, highlighting the situation of an overlooked country with some of the worst health indicators for children in sub-Saharan Africa. The mortality rate for young children in CAR is 175 per 1,000, meaning that nearly one in five children here does not live to see his or her fifth birthday. The lifetime risk of death for women who become mothers is 1 in 25, and an HIV prevalence rate of 6 per cent continues to wreak havoc among populations made vulnerable by chronic poverty and ongoing conflict.
‘We can stop this now’
Though Mr. Madden is a veteran activist on behalf of children, this was his first mission as a UNICEF Ambassador. He and long-time girlfriend Nicole Richie recently founded the Richie-Madden Children's Foundation to raise awareness about issues facing children around the world and to inspire the public – especially young people – to get involved.
Mr. Madden will also serve as the 2009 national spokesman for UNICEF’s clean-water campaign, the Tap Project. Now in its third year, this grassroots US-based initiative aims to provide safe water to children worldwide by inviting patrons to donate $1 for the tap water they normally get for free at participating restaurants.
“Around the world, in places just like CAR, nearly 900 million people don’t have access to safe water – but it’s the kids, like the ones I met on this trip, who are the first to get sick and die from dirty water,” said Mr. Madden. “The good news is that we can stop this now. I believe in zero. We can reduce that 25,000 to zero."