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Press release

Mozambique: 55 children perish daily from unsafe water

MAPUTO/ GENEVA, 20 June 2003 - In Mozambique, unsafe water and poor sanitation is killing almost 55 children every day. The country has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world: 246 out of every 1000 live births die within their first five years. Thirteen per cent of these deaths are directly attributable to a lack of access to clean water, proper sanitation and poor hygiene practices.

This translates into 55 children under five years of age dying every day from diarrhoea. Thousands more are at risk because of cholera, infections caused by dirty water, and inadequate sanitation conditions if conditions are not improved and work is not speeded up, the UNICEF said.

In Mozambique, more than two-thirds of the population is living below the Government’s poverty line of 40 cents a day.

Cholera is still endemic in parts of the country, with regular outbreaks especially in urban and peri-urban areas. The threat of this disease, that thrives where filthy water stagnates, looms over the most vulnerable children. Over the past nine months, 12,433 people have been treated for cholera, and 109 people have died. During the last month alone, 1,840 cholera cases were registered, mostly in Maputo and Gaza provinces. UNICEF has responded by providing the Government’s public works department with funds and chlorine for emergency water treatment, and has implemented massive hygiene promotion campaigns.

A combination of bizarre weather patterns, el Nino and la Nina phenomenon and changed patterns of land use combined to wreak havoc for the people of Mozambique. The catastrophic rains of the past years were followed by a drought last year. As a result, crop production in certain areas dropped sharply, creating food shortages. This has further exacerbated the catastrophic consequences of HIV/AIDS and poverty. Nearly 11 per cent of the households in affected areas are child or elderly-headed or have a chronically sick adult living with them. These struggling families are especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases as malnourished children have weak defenses against the ravages of diarrheoa.

In rural areas, only 26 per cent of the population can get clean water, while 29 per cent have access to latrines. Consequently, children drink unsafe water and are obliged to defecate in common areas.

Efforts to obtain fresh water places enormous strains on family members, particularly women and children, who must collect and manage the water. A survey conducted in November 2002 showed that only 35 per cent of households living in affected areas were able to access their water sources in 15 minutes. The same survey said that 25 per cent of the surveyed households were spending over 60 minutes every day to reach their water source. These chores fall heavily on children, particularly girls, preventing them from attending school. Furthermore, many schools have no latrines. The lack of privacy spells a powerful deterrent for parents to keep their daughters out school.

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF is spending $15.9 million over five years (2002 – 2006, the volume of the whole Country Programme for this period is $ 86 million) toward reducing the number of infant deaths due to diarrhoea and to cutting back on the amount of time used in finding clean water by:
· Supporting the Mozambique government in developing a National Water policy that reflects national standards, regulations and guidelines for the water and sanitation sector.
· Educating the public on sanitation practices and supporting communities in taking ownership in solving their water requirements
· Increasing the commercial availability on the local level of water pumps and spare parts so communities can quickly set up and repair water points.
· Strengthening emergency preparedness and response with supplies, training and publicity campaigns to promote correct waste disposal, personal hygiene practices, water handling and household cleanliness in general.
· Placing special emphasis on the development of a “School Hygiene” programme to address water, sanitation and hygiene issues. Children, specifically girls, participate in all the phases of the process from planning to management, and evaluation of these initiatives.

Major donors are UK Department for International Development , and the UNICEF German and Swedish National Committees.


For further information, please contact:

Damien Personnez, UNICEF Geneva, Tel: ++ 41 22 909 5517
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, Tel: ++ 212 326 7426




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