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Unclean water threatens health of one million Central Africans, UN warns

Unclean water threatens health of one million Central Africans, UN warns

Up to one million Central Africans do not have access to clean water and therefore are highly vulnerable to threat of deadly waterborne diseases because of the conflict threatening their country, United Nations relief agencies reported today.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation was worst in the northeast of the Central African Republic (CAR), where fighting between Government forces and rebels and attacks by local bandits have forced thousands of people out of their villages to seek shelter in the nearby bush.

The insecurity is so widespread across the north of the country that many Central Africans there are too afraid to return to their villages, instead resorting to stagnant pools or rivers in the bush areas for their water supplies. Those that have remained in their villages often face wells that are not working.

OCHA said that in Haute-Kotto prefecture, which borders Sudan, only 1 per cent of the entire population has regular access to potable water.

Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the CAR, said that “people are dying for want of clean water. If our water projects get the support we have asked for on time, the coordination mechanisms that we have put in place will allow us to provide safe water to over 250,000 people in 2008.”

So far, only three out of 10 projects designed by UN agencies or by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve access to clean water and sanitation across the northern CAR this year have received any funding. The situation is particularly acute because the dry season normally ends in April, and thus the window of opportunity for projects to be implemented.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is leading a “water alliance” of 14 aid organizations that are trying to coordinate their efforts in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WATSAN) sector in the CAR, one of the world’s poorest nations. Organizations in the partnership work together to repair and drill wells and boreholes and to provide water pumps.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the formation of the alliance.

“Having a clear leader of the water, sanitation and hygiene team, responsible for coordinating the other organizations involved and providing relief when nobody else is able to, allows us to save many more lives,” he said.

Overall, the UN and NGOs have appealed for $96.2 million to help with their humanitarian efforts in the CAR this year. This figure includes $5.6 million dedicated to water and sanitation projects.