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Home > About Us > Magazine > Water in a Child's Life

[(c) September 2006/Jon Warren/World Vision]

World Vision Magazine, Summer 2007

By Jane Sutton-Redner

Turn on a water tap in front of a child in any country in the world, and the same thing happens: He delightedly reaches out to put his hands in the stream. Children have an inherent understanding of water’s significance. Its abundance or scarcity shapes the quality of their lives.

When clean water can’t be found, children suffer the consequences. They are vulnerable to a wide range of water-related diseases and infections, some merely uncomfortable, many deadly—all preventable. They can’t bathe regularly. Their families’ crops are dependent on rain, so the food supply can literally dry up at the weather’s whim.

Explore the Role of Water

"Typhoid Killed Our Child"
How Water Makes Children Sick
Bad Water By the Millions
Where in the World?
Water in Our Lives
Water in Use
Did You Know?
Learn More and Get Involved
Long trips to distant water sources keep them out of school. Good-paying jobs aren’t available for their parents. Those families who can leave the area in search of greener pastures do, draining talent and vitality from the community.

Clean water changes everything, especially for a child. From it flows all advantages:
  • Good health and nutrition
  • Education
  • Vibrant communities
  • A hopeful future
Explore the role of water in a child's life.

"Typhoid Killed Our Child"

Justine Kasongo still mourns her daughter, Muleka, who died a few years ago at age 9. Justine brought the feverish child to the hospital in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo, but in three days Muleka never responded to treatment.

Justine Kasongo's family once had to drink dirty water, with tragic consequences.
[(c) September 2006/Lisa Berglund/World Vision]
“In the last hours, I just talked to her. I told her she was going to get better, that this would pass,” says Justine. “It was 1:35 in the morning when she died. I just started to cry. Typhoid killed our child.”

Local World Vision staff suspect the cause of Muleka’s illness was the unprotected well outside the family’s house. Many families in Congo draw their water from holes and wells that fill up with waste matter. A contaminated source becomes a “warehouse of microbes,” says World Vision water and sanitation expert Jean Pierre Kalondo.

“All the main diseases come from water: cholera, malaria, verminosis, typhoid, and diarrhea,” he explains. “Since everybody needs water, if the water is contaminated, the whole population can be contaminated.”

Children are especially vulnerable because of their contact with the dirty environment, says Peke Ngoy, a doctor in Kolwezi. “Children say ‘Bonjour’ and clasp hands—they pass on dirt. They put their fingers in their mouths. Typhoid fever and blood diseases come from dirty hands.”

Muleka’s death was a preventable tragedy that Jean Pierre is working to avert for other children in Kolwezi, where World Vision has already drilled a borehole well. “This is just the beginning,” he says, describing plans for drilling more wells and installing tanks and piping. With these measures, water will again become a source of life in Kolwezi—rather than an agent of death.
—by Kari Costanza

How Water Makes Children Sick

Diseases linked to contaminated water kill a child every 15 seconds. What are these illnesses? What’s the connection to water? And how can they be prevented?
Water-borne diseases
Cause |Drinking water contaminated by human, animal, or chemical waste
Examples | Diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, polio, hepatitis A
Prevention | Accessing clean water and improving sanitary conditions

Water-related diseases
Cause|A bite from an insect (mosquitoe or fly) that feed or breed in water
Examples | Malaria, dengue fever, river blindness
Prevention |Limiting insect bites, e.g. through use of mosquito nets

Water-based diseases
Cause |Ingesting organisms that spend part of their life cycle in water
Examples | Guinea worm, bilharzia
Prevention |Staying out of infected rivers, straining or boiling water

Water-scarce diseases
Cause | Having poor hygiene or washing with contaminated water
Examples | Scabies, trachoma, lice
Prevention | Regular washing with clean water

Source: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Bad Water By the Millions

1 million
1.6 million
6 million
12 million
400 million

Source: UNESCO

Children killed by malaria each year
Child deaths due to diarrhea each year
People blind today due to trachoma
People affected by typhoid fever each year
School-age children infected with parasitic worms

Where in the World?

Countries where less than half of the population have sustainable access to clean water:
Democratic Republic of Congo
Papua New Guinea
46 percent
46 percent
43 percent
42 percent
41 percent
39 percent
22 percent

Source: Human Development Report, 2006

Water in Our Lives

At home, the average American uses 80-100 gallons of water a day. Where some of it goes:

Flushing the toilet
Brushing teeth with the water running
Running the dishwasher
Taking a five-minute shower
5 gallons per flush
2 gallons
12 gallons
25 gallons

The average African family uses a total of five gallons of water a day.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, World Resources Institute

Water in Use

Major Uses for Fresh Water in North America

Major Uses for Fresh Water in Africa

Did You Know?

  • Leaky faucets that drip one drop per second can waste up to 2,700 gallons of water a year. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Diseases such as diarrhea and parasitic infections cost 443 million school days a year, equivalent to an entire school year for all 7-year-olds in Ethiopia. Source: UNESCO
  • When a community gains access to clean water, its child mortality rate drops by half. Source: United Nations Millennium Campaign
  • World Vision’s water projects around the world have given 10 million people access to clean water and improved sanitation.

Learn More

>> See snapshots of water’s impact in our feature slideshow.
>>Water Wise ” teachers’ guides and materials that can be purchased at worldvisionresources.com. Or find educational information at www.watermatters.worldvision.org.nz.

Get Involved

>>Pray. Ask God’s favor on all efforts—from global movements such as the Millennium Development Goals to small-scale local projects—that seek to provide clean water for children.

>> Make a donation. $50 helps provide safe, clean, disease-free water, for families and children.

The feature above was published in
World Vision MagazineSummer 2007 [pdf].

Other features from this issue include:
  • Just Add Water — In much of West Africa, there is a simple solution to poverty.
  • Splashes— Snapshots of water’s impact

Accessing the magazine archives or an electronic version of this issue requires Adobe Acrobat reader. If you need a free copy of the reader software, click on this button:

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