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World Water Day: keeping children healthy

Water is life. Without this most basic necessity, people cannot survive. When access to water is difficult, time and productivity – and educational opportunities – are lost. When water isn’t clean, children and families are at risk of illness and death.

Celebrated every 22 March since the United Nations declared it in 1992, World Water Day aims to raise awareness around water’s fundamental role in development. Promoting access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene is a central component of ChildFund’s ongoing work in developing countries.

In Maliana district, in the western part of Timor Leste, lack of access to clean water and sanitation is a typical concern expressed by communities. In a country where health services are often inadequate, and infant and child mortality rates are high, prevention of waterborne illnesses such as diarrhoea is key to improving children’s health.

ChildFund Timor Leste, working with its local partner Hamutuk, is undertaking a water, sanitation and hygiene project in Goulolo village, Maliana.

Before the water project commenced in Goulolo, diarrhoea was prevalent in half of all children under five years of age. Villagers typically had to walk between 1-3km to the nearest water source, a river, for their household and hygiene needs. Laundry and washing was done on the river bank, while water for cooking and household consumption was carried back in plastic containers, usually by children. The water wasn’t clean enough to drink, and needed to be boiled for children and families to avoid illness.

The project takes a two-pronged approach of improving water and sanitation facilities and providing health education. Three water wells, including areas for washing and laundry have already been constructed. The second phase of the project involves the construction of community sanitation facilities, as well as training parents and children in the community about diarrhoea prevention and hygiene practices.

Now, children and their family members no longer have to carry water so far, or carry their laundry to the river bank. Better still, the water is clean and can be drunk straight from the well.

Eight-year-old Angelina is happy to be able to drink fresh water without first having to fetch it and wait for her mother to boil it. She and her friends have also learned that washing their hands “will stop us from getting sick”.

Learn more about World Water Day here.

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