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Water treatment and hygiene education protect millions in Sudan

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Carwardine
Children gather at a community water point in Sag el Naam, in Sudan's North Darfur State. Following recent outbreaks of acute watery diarrhoea, UNICEF and its partners have embarked upon a massive programme of water chlorination and hygiene education.

By Edward Carwardine

DARFUR, Sudan, 20 September 2006 – Cases of life-threatening diarrhoeal disease, including cholera, are on the increase in a region extending from the north of Sudan to southern Darfur.

In response, UNICEF is accelerating its water chlorination programme, which has already protected some 3 million people from infection. Good-hygiene campaigns are estimated to have reached a further 32 million people.

UNICEF has been working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health of the Government of National Unity, as well as state authorities, to treat water sources and storage systems. And while acute watery diarrhoea continues to be reported in a number of states, fatalities have fallen from 6 per cent to 3 per cent in the last month.

Containing outbreaks

“While there are many partners on the ground ready and willing to provide support, it is the leadership of the health authorities in each state that is critical to winning the battle against this killer disease,” says UNICEF Representative in Sudan Ted Chaiban.

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Carwardine
A young girl strains to load a water container onto the back of a donkey at a community water point in Sag el Naam.

“In areas such as South Darfur and the Zalingei corridor, where cases are still being reported on a daily basis, state authorities and community leaders have an important responsibility to lead the response, mobilizing all concerned to contain outbreaks,” he adds.

A total of 7,000 cases have been reported since April, but the number of new cases is slowing as water quality improves and people become more aware of what causes diarrhoeal disease. Mr. Chaiban says community management of water supplies and better hygiene are critical to tackling the disease.

Safe water for families

“Drinking chlorinated water that is stored in a hygienic way is not going to harm anyone,” he says. “Untreated water, however, presents a very real risk of dying from diarrhoeal disease – whether you take water from a well or from a donkey cart or from a piped system, and especially if it comes from a river source.”

Mr. Chaiban says people are advised to make sure that the water their families use has been chlorinated first and that they follow the recommended hygiene practices, because “your life may depend upon it.”

The cholera response programme has been largely supported by contributions from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office, the US Government and the multi-donor Common Humanitarian Fund.




20 September 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on the water treatment programme that is saving lives in Sudan’s Darfur region.
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