About 500 children die daily in sub-Saharan Africa due to lack of clean water, sanitation

December 17, 2015, 10:34am

A Chadian kid holds bottle taps at a slumdog of N'djamena, Chad on June 22, 2015. Photo: Orhan Cicek/Anadolu Agengy/Getty Images  

By Eleanor Goldberg, The Huffington Post  

Every day, about 500 children in the sub-Saharan Africa die due to diarrheal diseases, a soaring figure that could be curbed with some simple measures, experts say.

UNICEF announced the grave rate on Tuesday, ahead of a conference in Dakar, Senegal, where investment banks, international organizations and businesses will work toward finding ways to raise the funds needed to prevent these fatalities. Kids are succumbing to these illnesses due to the fact that they lack access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation and hygiene.

It would cost about $30 billion a year to bring sanitation and clean water to Central and West Africa, according to UNICEF.

“It cannot be business as usual,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement. “The pace of progress has to speed up exponentially -- and it’s going to take strong policies; robust financing; and a major shift in priorities among those who have the power to act.”

While adopting its new Sustainable Development Goals in September, the United Nations vowed to bring affordable and universal access to sanitation and clean water by 2030.

But UNICEF warned that without prompt action, the situation could quickly deteriorate even further over the next two decades. The issue remains that rapidly rising populations could outstrip government efforts to provide essential services.

One particularly concerning issue is the fact that more people in the region are defecating now in the open than they did in 1990. That leads to water contamination and an increase in stunting among children.

A major obstacle is the fact that African countries are allocating only a nominal amount to UNICEF’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene efforts.

A Kenyan woman handles a jerry can water jug at a distribution site in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, on March 21, 2009.

For example, no African country has devoted more than 0.5 percent of GDP to WASH.

Conference attendees are hoping to identify sustainable financial models that could help facilitate its sanitation and water efforts.

The microfinance facility, for example, would provide small loans to suppliers and consumers to bring water and sanitation to villages. A credit fund would encourage financial sectors in developing countries to provide capital to small- and medium-sized companies involved in WASH.

While identifying new financial models is critical, advocates are also calling for smaller-scale efforts to promote hygiene and bring clean water.

Just introducing more soap, for example, is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways of saving hundreds of people from succumbing to diarrheal diseases, Reuters reported.

In the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, only about half the population washes their hands. Health clinics also often lack hand-washing facilities, according to UNICEF. Innovative inventions also play an integral role in tackling the sanitation crisis.

Bill Gates, who together with his wife has made water issues a priority of his foundation, has noted that bringing western sanitation to developing countries is simply unaffordable. As a result, the Microsoft co-founder often seeks out effective alternatives that can help solve the crisis. In January, Gates touted the Omniprocessor, a device which converts poop into drinking water.

Designed and built by Janicki Bioenergy, a Seattle engineering firm, the machine burns human waste to produce electricity and water. The next-generation processor is expected to be able to handle waste from 100,000 people to produce up to 86,000 liters of drinkable water a day.

UNICEF agrees that there are plenty of routes to take to effectively address the issue, but that the key is to implementing the strategies swiftly.

“While we know what needs to be done, we have to figure out a way to do it faster and better,” Fontaine said in a statement. “There are a lot of options on the table; what is not an option is to continue to allow children to pay for our lack of action."