Itai Madamombe, Business Day
Every day, 5500 children
under the age of five die across 21 countries in eastern and southern
alone. Put in different terms: in the past two months, more children have died
in that region than the total number of people who died in
s December 2004 tsunami. Unless African governments and their international
partners move quickly to redress the situation, 330000 more children will die in
the next two months.
mark the annual Day of the African Child on 16 June. It is an opportunity to
reflect on progress towards childrens welfare and, perhaps, to acknowledge
the indispensable role children play in the progress of any nation. Ignore the
needs of the smallest and most fragile, warns United Nations childrens agency
Unicef, and you rob a country of future farmers, teachers, nurses and leaders.
The Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs), adopted by world leaders in 2000, recognise this critical link.
Six of the eight MDGs address children. If attained, children would not have to
die from treatable diseases and all could go to school on a full stomach and in
good health. They would grow up in a protective family environment, free from
abuse and exploitation.
Yet all the MDGs are running
behind schedule. Unicef reports that the goal to reduce by two-thirds the
mortality rate among children under five lags farthest behind.
cannot meet this goal until well into the 22nd century unless much more is done
to preserve childrens lives.
With the childhood of so
many under threat, our collective future is compromised. Only as we move closer
to realising the rights of all children will countries move closer to their
goals of development and peace, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns in a
foreword to Unicefs State of the Worlds Children Report 2005.
While the family offers the
first line of protection for children, many parents are simply too poor to
provide all basic necessities for children to survive and develop, Unicef
stresses. Governments therefore must devote a bigger share of their budgets
towards meeting childrens needs.
Even modest investments can
bring significant results. A simple 3 insecticide-treated mosquito net for
every African child, for example, could reduce overall child mortality rates by
20% by protecting against malaria, the number one killer of children in
. The net works as a barrier between the body and mosquitoes that carry malaria.
Other simple solutions, such as
providing a bucket of clean water, can also drastically improve child survival.
It is estimated that about 20l of water is the bare minimum that a child needs
for drinking, washing and basic sanitation. Yet some 4000 children worldwide die
every day simply because they lack clean water. Unicef warns that the MDG target
of halving by 2015 the number of people (1-billion) who do not have a safe water
supply within 15 minutes walk of their home will not be met unless the
international community steps up its efforts.
, 43% of children drink unsafe water and as a result millions suffer from
Fatima Kituxi knows well the
hardships of growing up without enough fresh water. She has spent many hours
searching for water in and around Mabuia village, just north of
. She also has had to care for brothers and sisters who have often suffered from
typhoid, diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases. Her first child, Isabel, died
in 1999 after a series of diarrhoea attacks.
In 2000, Unicef responded to
Mabuias appalling child mortality rates by helping the Angolan government
build a pipeline from a river to the community. A filtering system was added to
ensure that the water was clean and safe. Latrines, washbasins, taps and showers
were also installed to improve sanitation. The community created a committee
that now maintains the system. People were also taught good hygiene practices.
The results were exceptional:
diarrhoea rates dropped to almost zero and child deaths plummeted. Girls were
suddenly freed from hours of walking to and from the river, which allowed them
better to concentrate on their schoolwork. Mothers found more time to grow
crops, which could be sold to boost the family income. UN African Renewal