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» 04.12.2008 - Mozambique fears spreading cholera epidemic
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» 28.01.2004 - Cholera outbreak in Mozambique, Zambia spreads
» 14.01.2004 - Experimental Mozambican mass cholera vaccination begins

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Society | Health

Unsafe water kills 55 Mozambicans, daily

afrol News, 20 June - In Mozambique, unsafe water and poor sanitation is killing almost 55 children every day. The country has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world: 246 out of every 1000 live births die within their first five years.

- Thirteen percent of these deaths are directly attributable to a lack of access to clean water, proper sanitation and poor hygiene practices, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today.

This translated into 55 children under five years of age dying every day from diarrhoea, the UN agency had calculated. "Thousands more are at risk because of cholera, infections caused by dirty water, and inadequate sanitation conditions if conditions are not improved and work is not speeded up," UNICEF warned.

Cholera - which thrives where filthy water stagnates - is still endemic in parts of Mozambique, and the threat of the disease looms over the most vulnerable children. Over the past nine months, 12,433 people were treated and 109 people died from the disease.

During the last month alone, 1,840 cholera cases had been registered, mostly in Maputo and Gaza provinces, in the southernmost parts of the country.

Efforts to obtain fresh water places enormous strains on family members, particularly women and children, who must collect and manage the water. A survey conducted in November 2002 had showed that 25 percent of Mozambican households surveyed were spending more than an hour every day to reach their water source. Efforts to obtain fresh water place enormous strains on family members, particularly women and children.

- These chores fall heavily on children, particularly girls, preventing them from attending school, UNICEF said. "Furthermore, many schools have no latrines. The lack of privacy spells a powerful deterrent for parents to keep their daughters out school."

In rural parts of Mozambique, only 26 percent of the population can get clean water, while 29 percent have access to latrines. "Consequently, children drink unsafe water and are obliged to defecate in common areas," UNICEF said.

UNICEF said it had responded to the cholera threat by providing the government's public works department with funds and chlorine for emergency water treatment. The UN agency had further implemented massive hygiene promotion campaigns.

The lack of access to safe water for poor households comes in addition to other strains affecting mostly the same households. A combination of bizarre weather patterns - el Niño and la Niña phenomenon - and changed patterns of land use combined to wreak havoc for the people of Mozambique. The catastrophic rains of the past years were followed by a drought last year.

- As a result, crop production in certain areas dropped sharply, creating food shortages, UNICEF noted. "This has further exacerbated the catastrophic consequences of HIV/AIDS and poverty."

Nearly 11 percent of the households in affected areas are child or elderly-headed or have a chronically sick adult living with them. These struggling families were "especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases as malnourished children have weak defences against the ravages of diarrhoea."

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