The United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) says over 3.6 million people lack access to potable water, sanitation and hygiene services in Nigeria.
UNICEF’s representative in the country, Mohamed Fall, made this known on Friday in a statement to commemorate World Water Day scheduled for March 22 with the 2019 theme: “Living no one behind”.
Mr. Fall identified 1.1 million as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as a result of violence and conflict, noting that many of them are out-of-reach in remote areas still impacted by conflict.
“About 800,000 people are in hard-to-reach areas and 79 percent of these are children and women.
“In Nigeria, the conflict has created huge challenges for people living in the Northeast of the country, where violence has affected their ability to access water and sanitation, leading to diseases such as cholera.
“In the North-east 5,365 people were affected by cholera, with 61 dying in 2017, while 12,643 people were affected in 2018 and 175 died of the disease,” Mr Fall said.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore noted that children below the age of 15 in countries affected by protracted conflict on the average, are three times more likely to die from diarrhoea due to lack of access to WASH facilities than as a result of direct violence.
Mrs Fore, who quoted UNICEF’s latest report titled: “Water Under Fire”, said the odds were already stacked against children living through prolonged conflicts.
“The odds are already stacked against children living through prolonged conflicts with many unable to reach a safe water source.
“The reality is that there are more children who die from lack of access to safe water than by bullets,” she said.
Mrs Fore said that UNICEF has intensified efforts to scale-up life-saving responses, especially in IDP camps to ensure quality and sustainability of WASH services and facilities.
She further noted that the agency was also working to minimise the risk of WASH-related diseases and provide preventive measures against cholera and other waterborne diseases.
According to her, without safe and effective WASH services, children are at risk of malnutrition and preventable diseases including diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera and polio.
“Girls are particularly affected: They are vulnerable to sexual violence as they collect water or venture out to use latrines. They deal with affronts to their dignity as they bathe and manage menstrual hygiene.
“And they miss classes during menstruation if their schools have no suitable water and sanitation facilities.
“These threats are exacerbated during conflict when deliberate and indiscriminate attacks destroy infrastructure, injure personnel and cut off the power that keeps water, sanitation and hygiene systems running.
“Armed conflict also limits access to essential repair equipment and consumables such as fuel or chlorine – which can be depleted, rationed, diverted or blocked from delivery. Far too often, essential services are deliberately denied,” she noted.
“Deliberate attacks on water and sanitation are attacks on vulnerable children. Water is a basic right. It is a necessity for life,” she added.