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UN Launches Water Safety Initiative - 2001-11-30

A United Nations agency is launching a worldwide campaign that it hopes will prevent tens-of-thousands of people from dying of water and sanitation-related diseases. The campaign is called WASH, which stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All.

The United Nations estimates that every day, 6,000 people die from preventable water-borne diseases. Many of the casualties are children.

Gourisankar Ghosh, Executive Director of the U.N.'s Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, says diarrhea kills almost two million children each year, but as with other diseases caused by dirty water, it does not get a lot of attention. "This does not become a high priority agenda, because neither is it sexy, nor is it visible," he says. "It is a silent emergency. It is a silent death, because these children, these people, they die slowly and sadly, continuously being affected by the water-borne diseases."

United Nations statistics show 2.4 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities, and more than one billion people do not have access to safe water.

Mr. Ghosh says one of the aims of the campaign is to tell people how important clean water and good hygiene are to their health. "One of the investments will be on school children and on changing children's behavior," he said. "So, let us say 80 percent of the schools having hygiene in their curriculum by 2015. It is a very tangible target. South Africa, for example, has this included as a highest priority in its own program."

Mr. Ghosh says the U.N. council plans to work closely with people at the local level to develop good water and sanitation programs. He says the council will run pilot projects in about 25 countries, most of them in Asia and Africa.

In the case of African countries, the U.N. official says the council will work closely with the World Bank, and will use a large network of African newspapers and media to send out its health message.