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Indonesian children urged to wash hands to save lives

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1275/Josh Estey
Children at an elementary school in Aceh Province wash their hands. The facilities were built as part of the Karang Rejo spring water catchment system, a joint UNICEF and local community water and sanitation project.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, 15 October, 2009 — The second Global Handwashing Day will be marked across Indonesia today, drawing attention to the importance of handwashing with soap and water as one of the most effective and affordable health activities.

According to the UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report in 2009, only half of Indonesia’s population has access to adequate sanitation – a figure that drops to little more than one-third in rural areas – leaving many families exposed to the risk of diarrhoeal disease and other water-borne illnesses. The Indonesian Ministry of Health estimates that only 23 per cent of households practice handwashing with soap.

“Washing hands with soap and water especially at the critical times -- after using the toilet and before handling food -- helps reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by more than 40 per cent and respiratory infections by nearly 25 per cent,” explained UNICEF Country Representative in Indonesia, Angela Kearney. “Furthermore, washing hands with soap is also being recommended as a critical action to prevent the spread of influenza H1N1.”

Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are often major causes of lost work and missed school days, perpetuating the cycle of economic and social stagnation in many countries.  Investments in health, child survival, education, water supply, and sanitation are all jeopardized if there is a lack of emphasis on handwashing with soap.

Under the slogan of “Clean hands save lives,” the second annual Global Handwashing Day campaign aims to engage schoolchildren as effective agents for change. The introduction of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in schools, including handwashing with soap, is an entry point for children to understand and then take these good hygiene practices back into their homes and communities.

A number of events are being planned for Global Handwashing Day in Indonesia to bring the message of handwashing to school students. In Jakarta, the Ministry of Health has organized an official launch, rally and parade starting from the PP Muhammadiyah Building in Jakarta Pusat at 7 a.m. while a second event later in the day is being hosted by the Unilever corporation.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1464/Josh Estey
In Indonesia, a girl fills jerrycans at a UNICEF-supported safe water source in her village, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquakes in early October 2009. UNICEF also provided a water bladder to facilitate access to safe water in the community.

In West Sumatra, still recovering from a major earthquake two weeks ago, 400 students will take part in a mass handwashing event in schools and village clinics, led by the Department of Education with the support of Oxfam.

In East Nusa Tenggara a range of activities involving school children and young people are already underway, including art competitions, cultural festivals, competitions and sporting events designed to promote handwashing amongst the provinces’ youngest citizens.

In South Sulawesi, events will help generate awareness on handwashing amongst school children. All primary schools in the district of Talakar will participate in a two-hour lesson on handwashing and its importance for health, while the Vice-Governor of South Sulawesi will lead a mass handwashing exercise alongside local schoolchildren. 

Meanwhile, the Government of Aceh, with support from UNICEF and Muslim Aid, will hand over new boreholes in three schools, as part of efforts to increase access to water supply in educational facilities.

“We know from global experience that the simple act of washing hands with soap can save lives, increase enrolment, attendance and retention rates in schools for both girls and boys,” said Ms. Kearney. “Furthermore, children can be effective messengers for handwashing, taking their knowledge and understanding back to their homes and encouraging siblings, parents and neighbours to adopt this basic, but life-saving, step in their own lives.”

Global Handwashing Day is an initiative of the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, and is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs, private companies and individuals worldwide.

For more information contact Edward Carwardine, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Indonesia on +62 812 123 7252 or Iwan Hasan, Communication for Development Specialist, UNICEF Indonesia on +62 21 570 5816 ext 546



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