UNITED NATIONS (AN) — Children under the age of five living in conflict-prone nations are far more likely on average to die from illnesses due to unsafe water and sanitation than from war or violence, UNICEF reported.
Hundreds of millions of youth are at risk of contracting those illnesses, the United Nations agency said, because more countries suffer from conflicts than at any time in the past 30 years. Poor water conditions cause malnutrition and preventable diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and polio.
The 24-page report, entitled "Water Under Fire," coincided with the U.N.'s World Water Day on March 22. It is based on data from 16 nations: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“The odds are already stacked against children living through prolonged conflicts – with many unable to reach a safe water source,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “The reality is that there are more children who die from lack of access to safe water than by bullets."
About 4 billion people – more than half the world's 7.6 billion population – suffer water shortages for at least a month out of every year, according to another new U.N. report from a different agency, U.N. Water.
Meantime, the United States consumes the most water, typically 7,800 liters a day on an average per capita basis. Rounding out the top 10 water-consuming nations are Portugal, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Switzerland, which has a per capita use of 4,200 liters a day.
Threats to access
Fore said the challenges facing conflict-ridden nations are made worse when armed forces attacked and destroyed the means to provide clean water and sanitation. “Deliberate attacks on water and sanitation are attacks on vulnerable children,” she said. “Water is a basic right. It is a necessity for life.”
UNICEF said it provided 35.3 million people with access to safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene last year.
Some 85,700 children younger than 15 are dying each year of diarrhea linked to unsafe water, poor sanitation and unclean facilities — more than two and a half times the 30,900 children under 15 who are killed each year in conflicts — based on World Health Organization data and estimates for the 16 nations from 2014 to 2016.
Another 72,000 children younger than five are dying each year from similar illnesses linked to unclean facilities — 21 times the 3,400 children of similar ages that are killed annually in war-related violence.
Average mortality estimates were higher for diarrhea than for violence among children under the age of 15 in all nations studied except Libya, Iraq and Syria. The same was true for children under the age of five in all nations studied except Libya and Syria.
Water scarcity has become an increasing hindrance to sustainable development, according to U.N.-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif, a former city council mayor for Penang Island, Malaysia, whose organization deals with the global shift towards urbanization. Climate change is a major factor in that trend.
By 2030, six-in-10 people in the world were expected to live in urban areas. More than 90 per cent of the growth was predicted to occur in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, according to U.N.-Habitat.
The number of urban dwellers living with seasonal water shortages has grown from almost 500 million people in 2000 to an estimated 1.9 billion in 2050, Sharif said in a message for World Water Day.
"The situation is worse in slums where basic water and sanitation needs are barely met," she said.
About 844 million people around the world lacked access to safe water, according to Water.org, a U.S.-based aid organization that works to improve drinking water and sanitation in developing countries.