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Health News Thu, 8 Mar 2007

Diarrhoea kills 1.8 billion children annually - Report

Accra, March 8, GNA - Some 1.8 million children die each year, as a result of diarrhoea they contracted from drinking unclean water, the 2006 United Nations Human Development Report (HDR)has revealed. The report made available to the Ghana News Agency by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Ghana said the total annual deaths recorded indicates that 4,900 infants lose their lives daily from diarrhoea.

It said deaths from diarrhoea in 2004 for instance were about six times greater than the average annual deaths in armed conflict in the 1990s.

The HDR also noted that such high mortality rate caused by the disease made unclean water the world's second largest killer of children.

"At the start of the 21st century, unclean water is the world's second largest killer of children," it stated.

The 2006 Report, entitled "Water for Life, Water for Livelihoods", focused on water and sanitation. It was captured under six main themes:

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"The Crisis in Water and Sanitation," 93Water for Human Consumption," 93The Sanitation Deficit," 93Water Vulnerability and Risk," 93Water and Agriculture" and 93Trans-boundary Waters."

"When it comes to water the world faces a crisis that, left unchecked, will derail progress towards Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and hold back human development," the report said. It noted that even though access to water and sanitation were fundamental human rights guaranteed in international protocols as well as in national policies of individual states, 1.1 billion people, most of whom were in sub-Saharan Africa, still lacked access to water and as much as 2.6 billion people had no access to sanitation across the world.

"Almost 50 per cent of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from health problems caused by water and sanitation deficits," the Report stated, blaming poor management and its attendant inequalities in the global distribution of water.

The Report said the situation was a little better in most Western cities, citing New York, London and Paris, where water-related diseases and child mortality from such diseases were as rampant as they currently were in sub-Saharan Africa until sweeping reforms in water and sanitation sectors were undertaken in those cities.

It blamed the inequality of access to water and decent sanitation on the "politics of water management and the international community's failure to include water and sanitation in the partnership for development programmes."

The Report noted that water and sanitation suffered from chronic under-funding both at the international and national levels, saying that a typical public spending on water and sanitation was less than 0.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Products, especially in developing economies. It said as a result, 443 million school days were lost every year to water and sanitation-related illnesses.

Millions of women and girls spent four hours per day (1,460 hours a year) collecting water.

The Report cautioned that on current trends "we will miss the MDGs of halving the number of people without access to water by 235 million people as 800 million people in total will still lack access". "The sanitation target will be missed by 431 million people, with 2.1 billion in total still without decent sanitation," it said. The report said it had become imperative to pursue policies and programmes both at the national and international level to ensure that the MDG targets were met.

"If we take action and meet the MDG targets, more than one million lives could be saved over the next decade."

Mr Emmanuel Otoo, Project Coordinator for Human Development at UNDP-Ghana, said there was need to draw up national strategies for water and sanitation, increase international aid and also for a Global Action Plan on water and sanitation to be in place. These, he said, would constitute the bedrock for the achievement of the MDG targets and prevent the spread of water and sanitation-related diseases.

Source: GNA