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Children dying daily because of unsafe water supplies and poor sanitation and hygiene, UNICEF says

© UNICEF Viet Nam\2007\Jim Holmes
Luong Thi Cong the mother of twins Lo Hyen Trang and Lo Phuong Nhi (black skirt) both 3 years old. The twins are her first children, and they came late in life when she was 42 years old. La Nga village, in Muong Sang Commune, Moc Chau, Son La Province.

NEW YORK, HA NOI, 22 March 2013 – As the world celebrates World Water Day today, UNICEF urges governments, civil society and ordinary citizens to remember that behind the statistics are the faces of children.

Globally, an estimated 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases and of these some 1,800 deaths are linked to water, sanitation and hygiene. In Viet Nam, every year approximately 1,100 children under five die of diarrhea. Many others experience parasite infections and most of them are children. 

“Sometimes we focus so much on the big numbers, that we fail to see the human tragedies that underlie each statistic,” says Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme.

Almost 90 per cent of child deaths from diarrhoeal diseases are directly linked to contaminated water, lack of sanitation, or inadequate hygiene. Despite a burgeoning global population, these deaths have come down significantly over the last decade, from 1.2 million per year in 2000 to about 760,000 a year in 2011. UNICEF says that is still too many.

“By reducing diarrhoea and parasite infections, we reduce not only the number of children who die, but also the number of children who suffer from stunting. Approximately one third of all Vietnamese children are stunted. This is an acute problem as stunting can irreversibly damage a child’s future physical and cognitive development”, says Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam.

UNICEF child mortality data show that about half of under-five deaths occur in only five countries: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan and China. Two countries –  India (24 per cent) and Nigeria (11 per cent) – together account for more than a third of all under-five deaths. These same countries also have significant populations without improved water and sanitation.

The figures for sanitation are even bleaker. Those without improved sanitation in these countries are: India 814 million; China 477 million; Nigeria 109 million; Pakistan 91 million; and DRC 50 million. Around a quarter of Viet Nam’s population and more than half of its ethnic minority people do not have access to proper latrines.

Improvements in water and sanitation would greatly contribute to a reduction in child mortality and morbidity and addressing inequity issues in these counties.

Wijesekera says the progress already made since 1990 shows that with the political will, with investment, with a focus on equity and on reaching the hardest to reach, every child should be able to get access to improved drinking water and sanitation, perhaps within a generation.


UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

In June 2012, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States with UNICEF launched a global roadmap to end preventable deaths of children under the age of five. Since then, under the banner of Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, more than half the world’s governments have signed up and renewed their commitment to child survival. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

For further information, please contact:

  • Sandra Bisin, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Viet Nam, (84-9) 7276-5050,
  • Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Viet Nam,
  • Rita Ann Wallace, UNICEF New York, Tel: + 1 212-326-7586; Mobile: + 1 917-213-4034;



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