At a glance: Mongolia

UNICEF works to improve access to safe water and sanitation in rural Mongolia

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
In most Mongolian families, children are responsible for fetching water for the household.

By Steve Nettleton

ULGII, Mongolia, 28 September 2007 – Twice a year, here in the capital of Mongolia’s westernmost province, Khuangan grabs a shovel, ties a cord around his waist and descends into the darkness to keep the water supply flowing.

His neighbours lower him slowly to the bottom of a deep well shaft. There, he turns on his flashlight and digs into the muck of black ice and sediment that has blocked the water source that his family and three others depend upon.

Securing a steady and safe source of water is one of Khuangan’s main concerns. Few households enjoy piped drinking water in his neighbourhood. Most families must take it upon themselves to provide water – digging and maintaining their own wells, or using public water-pumping stations.

“We cannot just sit and wait until the government provides help,” says Khuangan. “We have to take care of our own lives. We understand that very well. But no matter how hard we try, our lives do not improve much.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Access to safe water and improved sanitation means a better, healthier life for children and families in Mongolia.

Safe water for a better life

Khuangan’s is a common problem in rural Mongolia, where only one out of five households has access to improved water sources, compared to 62 per cent in urban areas. Fewer than 5 per cent of rural homes have adequate sanitation. As a result, every year thousands of children under the age of five suffer from diarrhoea, and hundreds more are infected with Hepatitis A.

In most Mongolian families, the responsibility for fetching water for the household rests with the child. According to a 2004 survey by UNICEF, the UN Development Programme and the World Heath Organization, more than a third of all the country’s children spend three to four hours a day collecting water.

They must brave frozen rivers and wells in winter and haul containers long distances. Many children miss classes to accomplish this daily task, but they understand the importance of having access to safe water.

Long-term, sustainable access

UNICEF is working to provide rural families with better access to safe water and improved sanitation. In collaboration with local communities, the organization aims to improve the quality of water sources and latrines, especially in schools. It also seeks to teach children and their families better hygiene habits, such as thorough hand-washing with soap or disinfectants.

The goal of these efforts is to provide long-term, sustainable access to the most elemental of life’s requirements – a concept very much understood by those living here.

“Water is essential because it provides all our necessities,” says E. Bulgan, 16. “If we didn’t have water, our clothes would all be dirty and we would have nothing to cook the meals with. So water is vital for our lives.”


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on efforts to bring wider access to clean water in rural Mongolia.
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