Three Ways Water and Sanitation Contribute to Child Survival—and Three Ways To Help!

Written by

Lisa Schechtman
Lisa Schechtman Lisa Schechtman is the head of policy and advocacy at WaterAid in America, the U.S. member of WaterAid International, the world’s largest NGO focused on providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education (WASH) services for poor communities in 27 countries around the world. Prior to joining WaterAid, Lisa served as policy director at the Global AIDS Alliance, and was a member of the Developed Country NGO Delegation to the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Lisa has a Masters of Arts in International Human Rights and Global Health Affairs from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in English Literature and French Language from Northwestern University. She is based in Washington, DC.

Every year, more than seven million children worldwide die before they reach their fifth birthday. This month, the U.S. government will join the governments of India and Ethiopia to host a high-level international call to action that aims to reduce this figure by ending preventable child deaths. Here are three ways safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) will play a critical role.


1.) Stop The Leading Causes of Death

Diarrheal diseases and pneumonia are the two leading killers of children under five years old in the world. Both are linked to poor quality water, sanitation and hygiene, and both are preventable. Diarrhea arises from drinking unsafe water and bad sanitation. Pneumonia is an infectious disease that can be prevented by handwashing with soap. While solutions seem easy enough, in communities where water is miles away and families that must choose between drinking, cleaning, and watering crops, hygiene doesn’t seem so important, and people will drink whatever water they can find. This is where WASH programs come in. Not only do they help provide safe drinking water close to home but, when done well, they also teach mothers and children why sanitation and hygiene are important. WASH is not a silver bullet and it depends on many other programs for all to be successful, but it does provide critical infrastructure and information that can help prevent the two leading killers of children.

2.) Advance Basic Health Services

There are myriad reasons that so many children never get to celebrate the landmark 5th birthday—poor nutrition, infectious diseases, lack of health care for mothers and children— and numerous responses, too. Both prevention and treatment are critical and must go hand in hand with basic services that women and children can actually use. Not only does care need to be accessible, it needs to be sought after.  Once women and their children arrive at the clinic, the care needs to be good, and comprehensive. There are benefits beyond the absence of illness. For example, healthy kids go to school; educated kids grow into healthier adults who send their kids to school and can go to work. The cycle of poverty can be broken. Our goal is not just for kids to survive, but to thrive. Safe water and sanitation at the clinic can help ensure the care is good; hygiene promotion can help families take healthy behaviors home with them; latrines and taps at school can keep kids coming back. There are many other examples of one basic service advancing another. The point is to get the basics right. This requires the sort of coordination and common objective that USAID is advancing through the 5th Birthday Campaign.

3.) Build Whole-of-Government Support

The great thing about the role of WASH in child survival is that everyone agrees on it! USAID’s own objectives are advanced by the bipartisan Water for the World Act, currently moving in both chambers of Congress.  The bill recognizes the role of partnership, basic health care, and coordinated approaches in advancing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene—and the reverse. It shows that child survival is a cause we can all unite around. Between the US government, private sector and non-governmental organizations, there is a lot of weight behind the effort to end preventable childhood deaths. But we need the American public for this to really work. That’s where you come in!

Three Ways You Can Help:

1.) Join VIPs like pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk, Senator Tom Coburn, tennis superstar Anna Kournikova, Saddleback Church’s Kay Warren, and actress-model Kim Kardashian (and me!), by uploading a photo of your 5th birthday or 5th year. It’ll show you support USAID’s objectives—and prove to everyone how adorable you were!

2.) Urge your Representative to pass the Water for the World Act. Your voice could be the difference!

3.) Tweet your Members of Congress (here is a list of handles!) to tell them that the Water for the World Act is critical to child survival! Use the #Water4World and #5thBday hash tags so we can track our impact; many Members are on Twitter, so this is an easy way to get their attention!

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