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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

World Water Day: Children call for action on access to safe water

© UNICEF/HQ00-0631/LeMoyne
Clean drinking water is provided at an early childhood development centre in India. Water is fundamental to the well-being of children, touching every aspect of their lives.

By Claire Hajaj

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 22 March 2006 – On World Water Day, as the 4th World Water Forum here draws to a close, the voices of debate and discussion have fallen silent to hear and consider a clarion call to action from children.

Ten young water activists took the stage yesterday, side by side with over 30 ministers of water and environment at the global meeting, to discuss children's role in the world water crisis. They represented the 112 participants in the Children’s World Water Forum, a parallel event ending in Mexico City today. And they spoke out for the hundreds of millions of children worldwide struggling to survive without safe drinking water.

Unacceptable suffering

Standing tall in their national costumes, the children from Africa, Asia and Latin America faced world leaders with dignity and the special unity of childhood.

Ibrahim Adamu, 15, President of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament, opened the children’s “water manifesto” with a demand: Governments must accept responsibility for children’s unacceptable suffering as a result of water deprivation.

“Today, 400 million children do not even have enough safe water to live healthy lives,” he said. “This is wrong. This is killing our future. We call on you to bring safe water to all the world’s children as our human right.”

Sharing lessons, transforming lives

For all the children at the Children’s World Water Forum, this was the crowning moment of a week filled with energy, excitement and, most of all, hard work. Throughout the forum, they have heard ideas from more than 30 cultures and discussed dozens of examples of child-driven water and hygiene projects. They have shared stories of courage and imagination, of children working for children to bring permanent change.

Some of the projects have shown great innovation, such as 13-year-old Suresh Baral’s efforts to set up a microfinance project in his remote Nepalese village as a means of helping local people build latrines.

Other projects have brought social change that reaches far beyond water and hygiene. Dolly Akhter, 16, shared how her group of UNICEF-supported teenage hygiene educators in a Bangladesh slum helped to stop four child marriages in her community, simply by going house-to-house to teach better hygiene behaviour and lobbying for girl-friendly sanitation facilities at her school.

Through their work and determination, these children are transforming lives in some of the world’s poorest places. They are proving that change is possible – spreading better health, higher education rates, empowerment and hope.

© UNICEF Mexico/2006/Chevigny
Children wave goodbye at the closing of the Children’s World Water Forum in Mexico City. More than 100 children from over 30 countries took part in the event.

Child survival at stake

The children’s call to action says governments have no excuse for ignoring the water and sanitation needs of young people or failing to invest in child-focused solutions.

In the week since the World Water Forum began, more than 31,000 children have died from waterborne diseases. Hundreds of thousands have become sick. And in every corner of the developing world, schools have been missing pupils because of illness or dirty facilities keeping children away – particularly girls.

“The World Water Forum has been about much more than water for development, industry and agriculture,” said Deputy Director Jean Gough of UNICEF’s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Nothing less than the survival of our children and the education of the next generation are at stake.”

A challenge to leaders

Determined to keep adult decision-makers accountable for their water pledges, the Children’s Forum participants closed their meeting with an intergenerational dialogue between young people, ministers and water experts from around the world.

As the children presented their projects to the adult panel, one child issued this challenge: “We are tired of politicians always making promises but not implementing them! How do we know that this time you will keep your word?”

In response, every member of the panel publicly pledged to learn from the children’s work and invest in their ideas.

As the Children’s World Water Forum closed in a ceremony lit by songs, dancing and laughter, the children were finally ready to go home. They will take with them the warmth of new friendships, as well as fresh ideas for community water projects. They do not know if the changes they dream about will come quickly or slowly. But at least their voices have finally been heard.




22 March 2006:
As countries and communities observe World Water Day, UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the close of the Children’s World Water Forum.

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22 March 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on a dialogue between young people and adult decision-makers at the Children's World Water Forum in Mexico City.

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