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At a glance: Peru

In Amazonian Peru, a simple, life-saving solution to waterborne illness

Drinking water is fundamental to human life. Yet, thousands of children die every day from diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases because of limited access to safe water.

As the world observes World Water Day on 22 March, we look at the Loreto region of Peru. Although the Amazon, the world’s largest river, flows through this part of the country, safe water here is limited.

UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on a simple solution to the problems caused by contaminated water in Peru’s flood-affected Loreto region.  Watch in RealPlayer


By Sabine Dolan

IQUITOS, Peru, 21 March 2013 – Cinthia Alado is worried about her son Andy. The 7-month-old has been suffering from stomach pain. 

Safe water at a high price

Cinthia and her family live in a crowded community by the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru. Last April, the area was devastated by what local inhabitants say were the worst floods in more than three decades. The waters have long since receded, but people in this impoverished neighbourhood have limited access to clean, safe water.

As a result, residents, especially young children, have suffered from bouts of severe diarrhoea and various infections.
“My son has had diarrhoea already five times today because I don’t have clean water in my house,” says Cinthia, holding Andy in her arms. “Water costs a lot of money, and I just can’t afford to buy it every day.”
“For thousands of families in Peru, the only option is to buy water supplied by tank trucks and store it,” explains UNICEF Representative in Peru Paul Martin. “This lack of access to safe drinking water translates into children having skin problems and exposes them to stomach viruses which produce recurrent diarrhoea.”

© UNICEF Peru/2012
The community of Masusa is in Iquitos on the Amazon River. It is extremely poor. Eight in ten families don’t have safe drinking water, and almost no one has access to sanitation. Masusa was severely affected by floods, which contaminated local water supplies.

Illness during and after floods

In fact, amidst the floods, lack of hygiene and the poor quality of water, Andy has had two episodes of acute diarrhoea. Andy’s 3-year-old brother Lucas has also been affected.
And they’re not alone. At the local UNICEF-supported health centre, cases of children with diarrhoea skyrocketed during the floods and their aftermath.

“The families in Masusa are extremely poor. Eight out of ten don’t have safe drinking water, and almost no one has access to sanitation,” says UNICEF Emergency Nutrition Specialist in Iquitos Carol Piscoya. “As a result of contaminated water, three out of ten children suffered from diarrhoea.”

Essential supplies and training reach Iquitos – and Andy

UNICEF has provided health centres in affected zones with a six-month supply of oral rehydration salts (ORS), zinc tablets, vitamin A, water containers and other essential supplies to help with vital emergency and post-emergency needs. In addition, UNICEF has helped train medical workers to teach families affected by waterborne diseases about basic hygiene such as proper hand-washing, breastfeeding and adequate nutrition during illness.

© UNICEF Peru/2012
Masusa resident Cinthia Alado gives baby Andy oral rehydration salts to help him recover from acute diarrhoea. Both Andy and his brother were affected by waterborne illness during and after the floods.

When Cinthia brings Andy to the health clinic, she receives zinc tablets and ORS. The nurse explains to her how to administer ORS to little Andy properly.

Together with prevention measures such as access to clean water, improved hygiene, and breastfeeding, ORS helps save the lives of babies like Andy.

To protect water sources is to protect children

Soon after her visit, the 27-year-old mother reports, with a sigh of relief, “My son Andy received his treatment at the health centre, and he’s already feeling much better. His diarrhoea has stopped.”
“When a family has access to safe drinking water, their lives improve enormously, and the risk of chronic malnutrition, anaemia and diarrhoea in children is reduced significantly,” says Mr. Martin. “To protect water sources and distribute them appropriately is to protect our children, as well.”

Diarrhoea is the world’s second leading cause of death among children under 5. Each day, more than 2,000 children under 5 die of diarrhoea. Yet, diarrhoea is both preventable and curable. ORS is one of the most effective ways of combating diarrhoeal diseases. ORS is inexpensive and safe to administer.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization have been promoting and developing the use of ORS since the 1970s, helping save millions of children’s lives.



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