On the eve of the UN Water Conference (22/24 March), a new analysis by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that 190 million children living in 10 African countries face extremely high risks due to the convergence of three water-related threats.
These threats are the inadequacy of water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, the diseases resulting from this situation, and climatic hazards.
It is in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia and Chad that this triple threat is most serious, Africa West and Central being one of the regions of the world most affected by water insecurity and climate change. Many of the hardest-hit countries, particularly those in the Sahel, also face instability and armed conflict, which further impede children’s access to clean water and sanitation.
According to Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of Programs at UNICEF, “Africa is facing a water disaster. While water and climate change shocks are increasing globally, no other continent presents such a dangerous combination of risks for children”.
“Devastating storms and floods, as well as unprecedented droughts, destroy facilities and homes, contaminate water resources, generate food crises and spread disease. While the current conditions are already extremely difficult, if we do not act urgently, the future could be even bleaker,” he adds.
As part of this global analysis, the examination of household access to WASH services, the number of deaths among children under 5 attributable to the inadequacy of these services, and exposure to climatic hazards and environmental issues identifies countries where children are most at risk and where investing in solutions to prevent preventable deaths is critically needed.
In these 10 high-risk countries, nearly one-third of children lack access to at least basic water facilities in their homes, and two-thirds lack basic water services. sanitation. A quarter of children have no choice but to practice open defecation. Hand hygiene is also poor, with three-quarters of children unable to wash their hands due to a lack of soap and water in their homes.
As a result, these countries have the highest rate of child mortality from diseases caused by inadequate WASH services, such as diarrhoea. Thus, of the ten countries concerned, six experienced cholera epidemics last year. Globally, more than 1,000 children under the age of 5, approximately two in five of whom live in one of these 10 countries, die daily from WASH-related disease.
Moreover, these countries are among the 25% most exposed to climate and environmental threats (out of 163 countries). In parts of West and Central Africa, rising temperatures, which accelerate the replication of pathogens, are 1.5 times faster than the global average.
In addition, groundwater levels are falling, forcing some communities to dig wells twice as deep as just a decade ago. At the same time, rainfall is becoming more erratic and intense, causing floods that contaminate already scarce water resources.
These 10 high-risk countries are also classified by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as fragile or extremely fragile, and in some of them, tensions generated by armed conflict threaten to reverse the progress made. in terms of access to drinking water and sanitation.
For example, Burkina Faso is experiencing an escalation in attacks on water supply facilities as a tactic to displace communities. In 2022, 58 water points were attacked, compared to 21 in 2021 and three in 2020.
As a result, more than 830,000 people, more than half of them children, were deprived of access to drinking water last year.