|Youth delegates Ibrahim Adamu of Nigeria and Chinchu George of India speak with Cherie Blair at the meeting of the Global Task Force on Water and Sanitation.|
NEW YORK, USA, 22 January 2007 – Cherie Blair met youth delegates from India and Nigeria at UNICEF headquarters today to help start a global initiative to ensure that children everywhere have access to safe water and sanitation.
“More than 400 million children, it is estimated, live without access to a safe drinking source,” said Ms. Blair, an eminent barrister and the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, attending the meeting of the Global Task Force on Water and Sanitation.
“Over twice as many [children] lack improved sanitation facilities, and the price they pay for that is huge because we all know we cannot survive without water,” she told the packed meeting at UNICEF House.
Along with Mrs. Blair, participants at the first working meeting of the Global Task Force included government officials from Malawi, China, Britain, Uganda, Viet Nam, the United States and Japan, as well as representatives from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies.
|A girl drinks water from a tap at Ayesha Girls College, a makeshift camp for people displaced by the conflict in Sri Lanka.|
Youth delegates participate
Emphasizing a broad, multi-sector approach to tackling issues of safe water and sanitation, the task force includes specialists in health and education, as well as youth delegates. Representing the world’s children at today’s meeting were Chinchu George from India and Ibrahim Adamu from Nigeria, both 16.
Chinchu, a member of the Children’s Parliament in Kerala State, was instrumental in setting up a rainwater harvesting system at her school, a solution that is now spreading to neighbouring communities.
“During the summers, a water scarcity problem in our school led to urinary tract infections because girls didn’t want to use the toilets. But after implementing a rainwater harvesting system we were able to get rid of the foul smells and the infections – so now children are happy to come to school,” she said in an interview.
“One of the misconceptions is that having access to clean water is actually a privilege, but it is high time that we started recognizing it as a right of every child to have clean water,” added Ibrahim, who serves as the Senate President of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament and took part in the Children’s World Water Forum in Mexico in March 2006.
Water and sanitation goals
Every year, unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation contribute to the deaths of more than 1.5 million children under the age of five from diarrhoea. Hundreds of millions more are held back by water-borne illnesses that sap their strength and undermine their ability to learn.
There are still some 425 million children under the age of 18 who do not have access to an improved water supply and over 980 million who lack access to adequate sanitation.
Reaching the Millennium Development Goal target – to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015 – depends on better access for children, the meeting participants heard.
To help governments achieve the target for water supply and sanitation, UNICEF focuses on rural areas, where the vast majority of people without these necessities live. Partnerships between governments, NGOs, the private sector and communities themselves are key to providing more poor households with access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.