Although the number of children under five years dying from diarrhoea each year in Afghanistan has dropped below 10,000 for the first time, the disease still claims the lives of 26 children each day across the country, UNICEF said.
“Deaths from diarrhoea are particularly tragic because in most cases, they can be easily avoided,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Afghanistan Representative.
“Using a toilet and washing your hands is literally a matter of life or death.”
Diarrhoea-related deaths, which now total 9,500, account for around 12 percent of the 80,000 deaths of children under the age of five that occur annually in Afghanistan.
The risks associated with diarrhoeal infections are exacerbated in Afghanistan – a country where some 1.2 million children are already malnourished and 41 percent of children are stunted. Poor sanitation and hygiene compound malnutrition, leaving children more susceptible to infections that cause diarrhoea, which in turn worsens malnutrition.
“Providing access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities in villages and towns across the country is critical,” said Khodr.
“At the same time, community-led efforts to improve hygiene practices are the simple and most effective way to save lives,” she added.
While insecurity continues to affect humanitarian access to parts of the country and slows development, there is still progress. The district of Nili, in Daykundi province, central Afghanistan, was declared as the country’s first ‘open defecation free district’ at a ceremony on 01 November.
Towns and villages across Nili took on the ‘Community-led Total Sanitation’ approach in which families identify areas around their homes that are used as toilets. Through a combination of shock, shame, pride, and disgust, families without a toilet decide to build their latrine. Community-wide commitment and some peer pressure do the rest and typically after three to six months, an entire community has given up defecating in the open, contributing to a healthier environment for everyone.
In 2017, UNICEF in Afghanistan has already supported more than 500 Afghan communities to be declared and certified as open defecation free. Global research has shown that in some communities where people now use toilets rather than fields or other outside areas, stunting has been reduced by 23 percent. Reducing cases of diarrhoea also cuts down on significant health costs that families face when having to treat their children for regular sickness.
In another step forward in tackling nutrition issues, Afghanistan became the 60th country to join the ‘Scaling Up Nutrition’ (SUN) movement on 16 October. The SUN Movement brings together governments, civil society, the United Nations, donors, businesses, and researchers to improve nutrition by amplifying the reach and impact of each other’s work.
UNICEF and partners are calling on all districts in the country to adopt the ‘Community-led Total Sanitation’ approach and for donors to support the movement to improve and save the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the country.