Let’s talk about toilets – basic sanitation saves lives
I am a mum of a three year old girl and a five year old boy. They are the two most precious things in the world to me. As soon as they came into my life, all I wanted to do was to protect them from harm and give them the best possible start in this world.
My worst nightmare, which I imagine is probably the same for most mums, is the thought of one of my children falling ill and suffering. From the moment they were born I have felt a massive responsibility to look after their health, making sure they eat the right food and practice good hygiene habits such as washing their hands after going to the toilet.
I have been working at UNICEF, the world’s leading organisation for children, for the past eight years and I feel that this experience has only made my instinct to protect them even stronger.
Most recently I travelled to Liberia, a country in West Africa that lies in between Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, to see how children are growing in a country still recovering from a vicious civil war that only ended in 2003.
Liberia has a population of four million people. It is one of the most challenging countries on earth for a child to grow up in, with child infant mortality rates particularly high.
In Liberia children are at real risk from illness and disease because of a lack of proper sanitation facilities and knowledge about hygienic practices. A lack of knowledge about the danger of open defecation and the harm it can cause to children makes the situation even worse.
I saw this in evidence throughout my visit. Large parts of Liberia face grinding poverty, with children playing in open latrines alongside people going to the toilet, it really shocked me.
For these children, just a few of the 2.5 billion across the world who don’t have access to a proper toilet or knowledge about hygienic practices, bad sanitation isn’t about comfort or privacy. It can mean the difference between life and death. Everyday 3,000 children die from diarrhoea, almost always as a result of bad sanitation. It shouldn’t be like this.
To address this, UNICEF is working in countries and communities most in need, including Liberia, and implementing our innovative ‘Community led Approaches to Sanitation’ programme (CATS).
In Liberia as in other countries where sanitation remains a life and death issue, educating the community and affecting behavioural change is as much of an important part of the programme as building toilets. UNICEF focuses on teaching young people about the importance of hygienic practices so they can act as the drivers of change in their communities. These young people are not afraid to talk about toilets – they know that, by doing so, they can help save children’s lives.
In July we launched a partnership with The Unilever Foundation and Domestos which, through its support of our CATS programmes, will help an estimated 400,000 people live in open defecation free communities across nine countries; Gambia, Ghana, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and Vietnam.
My trip to Liberia was both shocking and eye-opening and I don’t think the images of children living in and among filthy, dangerous water will ever leave me. I found them even more shocking being a mum myself, and it’s not an overstatement to say that it will save children’s lives, and make a huge difference to whole communities.
Tagged in: diarrhoea, hygiene, Liberia, poverty, sanitation, UNICEF, water
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