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Clean Water Goals Slipping in Parts of Africa


A United Nations agency says, some parts of Africa are falling behind in providing clean water to their populations. The United Nations' 2015 Millennium Development Goals aim to cut by half the number of people who do not have sanitation and clean drinking water. Several African countries are far from reaching that goal.

The West and Central Africa region director for the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, says many countries are lagging far behind targets to increase access to basic hygiene, clean drinking water and toilets.

Esther Guluma says, some countries are going backwards. Overall in the region, she notes, the number of people who do not have access to clean water has increased from 124 million people in 1990 to 157 million today.

In five countries, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Nigeria, less than half the population has access to clean water.

Such problems lead to more cholera, diarrhea and higher rates of child mortality.

Guluma points to several causes. She says many countries in the region are just coming out of civil war, or have refugees spilling over from neighboring countries, so that priorities have been placed elsewhere. But, she says, a lack of political will and general poverty are also to blame.

Over the past 10 years, she explains, issues of water cleanliness have been largely forgotten. She says agencies trying to take care of child welfare sometimes forget that clean water is so crucial.

Another regional official with UNICEF, Herve Periez says this is particularly true for displaced populations.

"For a displaced population, if there is no access to clean water, it becomes the first emergency," he said. "It needs to be solved immediately, along with access to food and shelter, of course. But to avoid epidemics like cholera, you need clean water. And, let us not forget that, generally, the first cause of death in these cases is the lack of clean water, rather than the lack of food. You die much quicker because of a lack of clean water."

Officials said the only country in the region meeting targets both for clean water and better access to toilets is Senegal.

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