Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Children’s World Water Forum: Calling for change

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
The Children’s World Water Forum gives participants a chance to share their experiences, discuss solutions and present their action plan to government ministers.

By Claire Hajaj

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 17 March 2006 – Dressed in the universal teenage uniform of scruffy jeans and t-shirts, the young people arriving in Mexico for the Children’s World Water Forum look as though they could be from the same school or community.

But in fact their lives could hardly be more different: Some live in countries where safe drinking water is an accepted fact of life, while others are from the world’s poorest places, where a glass of safe water is priceless.

It’s all part of what makes the Children’s World Water Forum unique. The Children’s Forum is a special event for young people – part of the 4th World Water Forum now under way here in the world’s largest city.

Supported by UNICEF and the Mexican Institute of Water Technology along with other partners, this event has brought together more than 100 children from over 30 countries. Participants are sharing real-life experiences of unsafe water, poor sanitation,and what they have done to improve conditions in their communities.

All of these children have amazing stories to tell. Many are water and sanitation activists in their own communities. They have been inspired to challenge the problems of inadequate services at home and at school – problems that leave many other children struggling to stay healthy and continue their education.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
More than 100 children from over 30 countries are participating in the Children’s World Water Forum.

A shared search for solutions

Charlotte, a lanky 14-year-old from Kenya, can attest to the hardship faced by children without safe water – particularly girls. She has travelled from her home in a Nairobi slum to attend the Children’s World Water Forum. It’s the first time she has ever left Africa.

In her school in Kenya, Charlotte organizes cleaning of the latrines. She knows of many people who have fallen sick from diseases that lurk in dirty water or on unwashed hands. She has friends who have dropped out of school because of poor sanitation facilities.

It’s a challenge she has taken on by participating in a UNICEF-supported school sanitation and hygiene programme. Charlotte’s contribution is to create ‘talking walls’ – murals painted along school corridors that show children how best to keep themselves clean.

For Charlotte, meeting so many other children with lives both similar to and very different from her own is a dream come true. “We come here so we can hear what problems other people face, and maybe find a solution together,” she says. “This makes me very excited.”

‘Children are an investment’

According to UNICEF’s Chief of Water and Sanitation, Vanessa Tobin, Charlotte is one of the relatively lucky ones.

“Around the world there are 400 million children without safe water, and far more without a basic toilet,” she says. “They will be ill frequently and they will be sent long distances to fetch water. Many will be forced to drop out of education altogether – either to do water chores at home, or because they cannot go to the toilet in privacy at school.”

Seeing the children greet each other, at first shyly, and then eagerly, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties some of them face at home. But for the moment they can leave those aside and share the same hopes, fears, dreams and smiles.

Over the next few days the children will exchange experiences and discuss the action plan they want to present to government ministers of water, who are joining the World Water Forum on 21 March – the eve of World Water Day.

“We want governments to hear that water is a right, not a privilege, and children are an investment, not an expense!” says 16-year-old Ibrahim from Nigeria.

At the end of their first day together, the children join the official meetings at the World Water Forum itself. Holding their national flags, they take the microphone to formally launch the Children’s Forum to the world’s press.

One of the African boys shouts “Ethiopia, water for all!” before passing the microphone to the French participant standing next to him. She shouts “France, l’eau pour tous!” and smiles, and all the children cheer. As the microphone passes from hand to hand down the line, all the children raise their voices to call for change.


 

 

Video

17 March 2006:
UNICEF correspondent James Elder reports on the opening day of the Children’s World Water Forum.

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15 March 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on the world water crisis with children at its heart.

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