Children living in protracted conflicts are three times more likely to die from water-related diseases than from violence – UNICEF

22 March 2019
water
UNICEF/UN0155423/Thame
Two little girls fetch water from a pond in Nget Chaung camp in central Rakhine, Myanmar. Of the 23 displacement sites in Rakhine State, Nget Chaung camp, home to about 4,000 Rohingya, is reachable only after a four-to-five-hour boat ride.

NEW YORK, 22 March 2019 –  Children under the age of 15 living in countries affected by protracted conflict are, on average, almost three times more likely to die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene than by direct violence, UNICEF said in a new report today.

Water Under Fire looks at mortality rates in 16 countries going through prolonged conflicts and finds that, in most of them, children under the age of five are more than 20 times more likely to die from diarrheal-related deaths linked to lack of access to safe water and sanitation than direct violence.

“The odds are already stacked against children living through prolonged conflicts – with many unable to reach a safe water source,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “The reality is that there are more children who die from lack of access to safe water than by bullets."

Without safe and effective water, sanitation and hygiene services, children are at risk of malnutrition and preventable diseases including diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera and polio. Girls are particularly affected: They are vulnerable to sexual violence as they collect water or venture out to use latrines. They deal with affronts to their dignity as they bathe and manage menstrual hygiene. And they miss classes during menstruation if their schools have no suitable water and sanitation facilities.  

These threats are exacerbated during conflict when deliberate and indiscriminate attacks destroy infrastructure, injure personnel and cut off the power that keeps water, sanitation and hygiene systems running. Armed conflict also limits access to essential repair equipment and consumables such as fuel or chlorine – which can be depleted, rationed, diverted or blocked from delivery. Far too often, essential services are deliberately denied.

“Deliberate attacks on water and sanitation are attacks on vulnerable children,” said Fore. “Water is a basic right. It is a necessity for life.”

UNICEF works in conflict countries to provide safe drinking water and adequate sanitation services through improving and repairing water systems, trucking water, setting up latrines and promoting awareness of hygiene practices.

UNICEF is calling on governments and partners to:

  • Stop attacks on water and sanitation infrastructure and personnel;
  • Link life-saving humanitarian responses to the development of sustainable water and sanitation systems for all;
  • Reinforce governments and aid agencies’ capacity to consistently provide high-quality water and sanitation services in emergencies.

In East Asia and Pacific region, around 519 million people have no access to basic sanitation; 75 million people still practice open defecation; and 727 million people do not have piped water supplies. They are the ones left behind. They are often the most marginalized - the poorest families and their children, migrants, indigenous peoples, rural populations and the disabled. 

“In this region, we are working together with governments and partners reaching everyone who has been left behind. All children and their families should have access to safe drinking water and improved toilets,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and the Pacific.  

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Notes to Editors:

The report calculated mortality rates in 16 countries with protracted conflict: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. In all these countries, with the exception of Libya, Iraq and Syria, children 15 and younger are more likely to die from water-related diseases than as a result of collective violence. Excluding Syria and Libya, children under the age of five are almost 20 times more likely to die from diarrheal-disease linked to unsafe WASH than as a result of collective violence.

The estimates were derived from WHO mortality estimates for ‘collective violence’ and ‘diarrheal deaths attributable to unsafe WASH’ between 2014 – 2016.  

Multimedia materials available here: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIF3HHUU0

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org.

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For more information, please contact:

Shima Islam, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, +66 (0) 2 356 9407, ssislam@unicef.org

Joe English, UNICEF New York, Tel: + 1 917-893-0692 jenglish@unicef.org

Media Contacts

Shima Islam

Regional Communication Specialist

UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific

Tel: +66 (0)23569407

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF East Asia & Pacific and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/eap

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