Liberia: Poor Sanitation Killing Country’s Young

From AllAfrica.com:

Nineteen-year-old Beauty Phillips clutches her emaciated baby tightly to her chest. At seven months, Inga suffers from malnutrition.

On this chaotic Friday morning in the Slipway Clinic registration room, over one hundred mothers, their crying infants wrapped in traditional lappa cloth, wait on narrow wooden benches for hours to be seen.

"She is always sickly," explains Phillips about Inga’s constant vomiting and diarrhoea. "I get my water from the community hand pump, and for my toilet I’m going to the waterside or common toilet. This is why I think my daughter is getting sick."

One out of nine Liberian children die before their fifth birthday, or 110 out of every 1,000 live births, according to the Liberia Demographic Health Survey in 2007. Thirty-nine percent of children are stunted or short for their age.

Malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia are the leading causes of death here.

The crowded slum of Slipway lies along the polluted, marshy shoreline of the Mensurado River, near the heart of downtown Monrovia.

Although Liberia Water and Sewer are trying to reconnect pipes destroyed during the decades-long civil war, most residents cannot afford to buy or access the water.

Private septic tanks overflow regularly, and burning trash lies in heaps among the sewage surrounding the marshy pit latrines.

Liberia’s population is estimated at 3.5 million. "Over three million Liberians have no access to safe sanitation facilities," says Muyatwa Sitali, communications officer with Oxfam UK, which spearheads Liberia’s water, sanitation and hygiene consortium.

"Most people have no choice but to defecate in the open, where both their lives and dignity are at risk," Sitali explains.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has implemented a free nationwide public health care policy for children under five years old, a crucial step towards her promise to provide universal health care for all Liberians.

Read more here.