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At a glance: Liberia

Liberia launches safe-water campaign to prevent disease outbreaks

© UNICEF Liberia/2009/Vigneault
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the launch of the UNICEF-supported safe-water initiative in a market in Monrovia.

By Louis Vigneault

MONROVIA, Liberia, 14 October 2009 – UNICEF and its partners have introduced a far-reaching new initiative to reduce the number of Liberian families falling ill and dying from unsafe water.

The initiative – which is supported by UNICEF, Population Services International (PSI) and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare – will promote the use of basic hygiene and safe water. WaterGuard™, a household water treatment solution, is now available for all Liberians at risk of preventable waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid.

At the launch of the initiative, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on women working in markets throughout the country to ensure that WaterGuard™ is available everywhere to help reduce child and maternal mortality. 
“Household water treatment is one of the priority interventions for accelerated child survival and development,” noted UNICEF Health Specialist Dr. John Agbor. “The household water treatment approach promotes healthy behaviour for communities and empowers each family to make their water safe before they drink it.”

Promoting healthy behaviour

In Liberia, where one child in eight dies before reaching the age of five, children remain highly vulnerable to diarrhoea. The 2007 Demographic and Health Survey showed that only two-thirds of Liberians have access to safe drinking water.

“The prevention of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea through the increase in access to safe drinking water will contribute to keeping children free from such diseases and improve infant mortality and morbidity,” said Liberia's Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Bernice Dahn.

© UNICEF Liberia/2009/Vigneault
A performance in Monrovia shows the importance of treating water before drinking it, in order to avoid diarrhoea and other preventable diseases.

“We are happy to guide this partnership with PSI and UNICEF that will impact the lives of so many of our people, and particularly our young ones,” she added.

The challenge of safe water

Liberia is still recovering from a 14-year civil war that destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.

Safe water can be hard to get in rural areas, but the country’s capital Monrovia also has challenges. Piped water is flowing at about 25 per cent of the city’s pre-war volume, providing only 4 million gallons daily for a population of 1 million. 

In both rural and urban areas, there is a risk that water may be contaminated. Household water treatment will reduce this risk by allowing families to treat their water just before drinking it.

Help for the vulnerable

The water purification solution is manufactured in Liberia and sold at a price that many people can afford. 

Because more than three-quarters of the population in Liberia lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, UNICEF and its partners will also distribute the treatment free to the most vulnerable households.
The programme is starting with mothers and caregivers of children under five years of age in Montserrado County, a large urban centre in Liberia, and will fan out to six other counties this year.



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