As the world marks the first ever Global Handwashing Day in October, UNICEF, the Somali people and local and international partners are emphasizing the importance of hand-washing with soap in order to improve health and prevent the spread of disease. While designed to reach children in the first instance, central to the initiative is the need to ensure access for all to clean drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities. When adequately supplied, the provision of such social services also contributes to peace within communities by reducing unhealthy competition that can spark conflict.
Access to clean water and adequate sanitation is a fundamental right to which all men, women and children are entitled. The absence or lack of adequate provision of these crucial services can limit a community's potential for socio-economic development and survival. Nowhere more so than in Somalia, where the risk of water-based diseases is high and internal and external influences (such as the high price of food and water) have already reduced the ability of communities to sustain their livelihoods.In addition insufficient water sources expose the Somali population to potential conflict over access to limited supplies.
Somalia is an extremely water scarce country. Access to safe and permanent water supplies and sanitation facilities is a significant problem, aggravated by the destruction and looting of the water supply infrastructure during the civil war, the ongoing conflict and cyclical droughts and flooding. Currently, it is estimated that only 29 per cent of Somalis have access to clean drinking water and 37 per cent to sanitary means of excreta disposal. Such low social indicators are underlying causes of malnutrition, which has shown to impact a child's ability to learn and develop. In Central and South Somalia in particular, malnutrition rates have been above emergency threshold levels for years and most recently, children in the northeast and northwest of the country are experiencing a similar deterioration in nutrition levels. Of additional concern is the impact of poor coverage of water and sanitation services coupled with poor hygiene practices. This has resulted in high rates of water-related disease such as diarrhoea (including cholera) which accounts for about 20% of the country's under five mortality.
UNICEF is working with partners to reverse these startling statistics and ensure that Somali people, particularly children and women, have access to clean water and adequate sanition.
UNICEF Representative, Somalia