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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Decade of Water For Life: ‘We must not fail’

© UNICEF HQ/2005/Scott
Kul Gautam, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, at the 13th United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development annual meeting, at which the UN ‘Decade of Water for Life’ was launched.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, 21 April 2005 – The ‘Decade of Water for Life’ was launched by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York today.  The Decade calls for a commitment to action in order to halve by 2015 the number of people with no access to safe water or basic sanitation.

At present, more than one billion people have to go a significant distance from their homes in order to collect clean water, and nearly half of the entire world population lives without access to basic sanitation. As a direct result, 4,000 children die everyday from waterborne diseases.

Commenting on the significance of the Decade, UNICEF Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation Vanessa Tobin said, “We can’t fail on this promise. If we do, the outlook is poor. Water is intrinsically linked to child survival efforts. Diarrhoeal diseases are the second largest killer of children under five.

“We can’t tackle it through health services alone; we need to tackle it through public health efforts…. It’s about encouraging the right behaviour in communities and amongst families, to ensure that children aren’t exposed to danger within their own homes.”

Speaking after the launch, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Kul Gautam brought attention to how the availability of this vital resource impacts the lives of women and girls, who in many communities are tasked with fetching and carrying water.

“Providing water is in a way liberating and empowering women, “ he said. “A lack of water is not just an inconvenience for women it actually enslaves them.  Once you provide water and sanitation, it really liberates them and it really opens up a virtuous cycle of development: girls can go to school; they will become better mothers, better citizens and that leads to national development.”

© UNICEF HQ/2005/Scott
Manuel Dengo, UN Chief of Water for Small Islands, JoAnne DiSano, UN Director of Sustainable Development and Jose Ocampo, UN Deputy for Economic and Social Affairs, at the 13th UN Commission for Sustainable Development annual meeting.

Education, water and sanitation

Studies have shown that a lack of clean drinking water can impair a child’s ability to learn. In Oxford, UK, in January 2005, UNICEF and the International Water and Sanitation Centre co-hosted the ‘Roundtable on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education for Schools’. The event drew attention to the fact that over half of schools worldwide lack adequate water and sanitation facilities, which harms both children’s health and their education.

“When children go to school,” said Tobin, “they should have examples of good sanitation and enough water.”

UNICEF supports water, sanitation and hygiene projects in more than 90 countries. In 70 of those countries, these projects are combined with work in schools.

Discussing the value of investing in water and sanitation, Tobin said, “This is something that underpins so many development initiatives – health, education, and rural development. If we want to invest across the board in development efforts, this is one of the best investments that anyone can make. If we fail in this, it will severely impact other development areas.”




21 April 2005: UNICEF Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation Vanessa Tobin explains why the promise of the ‘Decade of Water for Life’ must be kept.

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21 April 2005:
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam says water is key to breaking the cycle of poverty in developing countries.

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