Imagine for a moment that we lived in a world where two million children under the age of five were dying every year of diseases that were entirely preventable. Imagine that this world was divided in two, where in one half children were free from this scourge and the other half lived in fear of these diseases which threatened their families every single day.
“Mostly it is our children that are affected. I lost two of my children, a boy and a girl and my sister also lost two of her children; two boys. The first one of mine was two years and the recent one who died just two weeks old.”
These aren’t the lines from a dystopian Brothers Grimm story, or a page lifted from the dark ages of our history. These are the words of Yenge Koroma, who lives in Vaama in Sierra Leone. This is our world today.
Globally nearly a third of under-five child deaths are attributable to just two diseases, pneumonia and diarrhea. Between them, they account for around two million young lives a year, with nearly 90% of these deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Last year, UNICEF and the World Health Organization launched a Joint Action Plan, which WaterAid strongly supports, to help tackle these two child killers together. These organizations recognized that alongside vaccines and treatments like oral rehydration salts, access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation and good hygiene are vital in helping to prevent these diseases.
As Yenge puts it: “The cause of the sicknesses is the water we are drinking. That water is polluted. There is dirt in the water and sometimes fish die in the water mysteriously. Sometimes we launder in that water; we use the water as toilet. All this is really making the water unhygienic but we have no other source. It is the same water we are drinking and that water I believe is really the cause of the sicknesses in this community.”
Her story is far from unique. Globally 1 in 10 people are without safe drinking water, while over a third of the planet (36%) goes without basic sanitation. In Sub-Saharan Africa the situation is that much more desperate, with 35% going without an improved water source, and a staggering 70% without safe sanitation.