UNICEF has taken up a mission to improve the water management in rural India by enabling better community management of water and its sustainability and to increase the overall hygiene and sanitation in schools and households for children and women. They have had a long history of support for improving the amount of water supply, hygiene and sanitation based on people’s rights. Survival of children is essential, and a proper environment is needed for children to grow, develop and be healthy and responsible adults and a part of the global village, which is Earth. They have started a WASH campaign (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) as a part of their goals previously set marketed as the UNICEF Millennium Development Goals.
This is a humble request to all citizens of India to promote better water management and hygiene to promote a healthier environment and here are some official facts generated by UNICEF’s research.
Washing hands with soap after excreting shows a 40% decrease in diarrhoeal diseases and 30% decrease in respiratory infections. It is also one of the cheapest ways to prevent pneumonia.
Over 594 million people defecate in the open, and 44% mothers defecate in the open in India. It heavily increases the chances of microbial infections like bacteria, viruses, amoeba spreading to water and causes diarrhoea, especially to children. These bouts of diarrhoea become frequent in places without proper sanitisation and lack of water, thus leading to children being overly vulnerable and weakened with repeated episodes of diarrhoea and hampering their education. Also, many educational institutions are not properly equipped with water facilities and sanitisation thus leading to health hazards. Improper facilities also cause female students to drop out because either toilet facilities are improper, or they simply don’t exist.
Another matter of concern is the amount of chemical contamination in water and improper monitoring of water quality. India is rampant with arsenic and fluoride poisoning in groundwater. The source of water is highly important, and proper water management facilities are necessary for purification, filtration and supply. Children below the age of 5 are extremely vulnerable to water-borne diseases. Water-borne diseases range from cholera, respiratory infections, typhoid, eye infections, skin infections, etc. Water supplies and sanitation is frequently disrupted very often in rural areas, and UNICEF has taken steps to take care of contingencies and emergency situations, so these incidents do not occur. They seek to save lives of children by preventing these things from happening. UNICEF has set an action time of about 6-8 weeks to sort out these problems and will also focus on long-term solutions in the long run.
So what are the key issues?
Infants: Infants in rural areas are not handled in a sanitized environment and even during the time of birth, birth attendants do not sanitize their hands. Just sanitization alone can reduce mortality risks of infant babies by 19% and an overall 4% decrease in the reduction of risk of death if their mothers also sanitized before handling their babies.
Children below the age of 5: Poor sanitisation causes diseases like diarrhoea, the second largest reason of death in children below the age of 5. It is also an aftereffect of under-nutrition caused by contaminated food due to lack of proper drinking water.
School-children: Children are not catered to by schools with proper sanitization and water facilities, schools should urgently fix water problems and arrange for proper toilets. Schools also need to educate students about hygiene practices and importance of proper drinking water.
Adolescent girls: Proper water facilities are necessary for menstrual hygiene and key to their privacy and dignity. They need to be educated and empowered with proper knowledge of menstrual hygiene and having proper water and hygiene facilities.
Mothers and Maternity caretakers: Proper sanitization and cleanliness are essential for the protection of the health of the baby and the mother, proper hygiene practices will serve both the parents and children for life and prevent the risk of unnecessary diseases.
UNICEF needs the support of the governments, both at a national level as well as state level to rid these problems and implement their plans properly. They have partnered already with governments and have started a ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ and a ‘National Rural Drinking Water Programme’ for sanitation and enabling safe drinking water facilities to rural India. They aim to provide safe water to every single rural home in India as soon as possible. Their long-term efforts have been paying off, and 88% of the Indian population of 1.2 billion people have access to drinking water from clean sources as compared to 68% in 1990. Sadly only a quarter of the population have drinking water on their premises, so things need to improve drastically and as it stands UNICEF is taking large strides to improve the situation of water availability, contamination problems, hygiene and sanitisation.