1.5 Million Children Die a Year From Diarrhea - Unsafe Drinking Water, Lack of Handwashing to Blame

unsafe drinking water africa photo

That brownish liquid, that's actually drinking water... photo: HDPT Central African Republic via flickr.

Today may be Blog Action Day, with the focus on climate change, but it's also Global Handwashing Day (who knew...?) and as part of that UNICEF has just released a report on the great tole diarrhea takes on children in developing countries. Is there a green angle in it? Most certainly:First the stats: Diarrheal diseases kill 1.5 million children every year, nearly 20% of all children's deaths in the world. That's more than deaths from AIDS, malaria and measles combined. More than half of these cases occur in Africa and South Asia.

Diarrhea Easily Prevented by Soap and Clean Water
88% of deaths due to diarrhea are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Access to clean water and good hygiene is the simplest solution, and can reduce incidence of diarrheal disease by 40%. That's where the hand washing part comes in.

But here's the solidly green angle (if broadly explained):

Climate Change Will Make Clean Water Access Worse
The same areas of the world that are without adequate sanitation and access to water and the ones which will be most hardly hit by climate change. Africa and South Asia both are likely to see decreases in the availability of water in coming years and decades. It's already happening in some places.

High Population Growth Rates Increases Water Stress
But it goes farther than that. These same areas have high population growth rates (Africa much more so than India, but India's is still unsustainably high from a resource use perspective), which contributes to water stress now and in the future.

If You Know Your Children Are Going to Live, You May Not Have More
And high rates of diarrhea deaths doesn't help bring those growth rates down. Unless you're over-reproducing with overt messianic zeal (cough, Quiverfull; cough, Duggers), if you know your children aren't going to die young due to disease, you probably won't keep having them.

So, the message is: At least part of the causes of diarrheal diseases, which claim so many children's lives in poor nations, is easily addressable. Go wash your hands. And use a bit of soap.

Now, climate change, improving sanitation and access to clean water, not to mention dropping population growth rates... those are a bit more complicated.

Read the UNICEF report: Diarrhoea: Why children are still dying and what can be done

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