Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Field Diary: Clean water improves health and education for children in Cerritos II, Honduras

UNICEF staff visit a small community in western Honduras to see how the lives of residents have changed since the installation of improved water and sanitation infrastructure.
By Marcos González
LEPAERA – “Before, we had to go very early to collect spring water. We walked for a long time to the spring and home again. Then, there were times when we got sick,” said 12-year-old Selvin Hernandez. “But now everything has changed.”
He recently saw piped water for the first time – and now has a tap in his home. “I never expected to see something like that in our house,” he said, smiling.
Piped water for the first time
Selvin lives in Cerritos II, in the municipality of Lepaera in western Honduras. Cerritos II, located some 1,200 metres above sea level, is accessible only by steep dirt roads that grow treacherous in the rain.
With support from UNICEF, the National Autonomous Service of Aqueducts and Sewers (SANAA) recently installed improved water and sanitation infrastructure in the area. Twelve months ago, this programme brought tap water to each of the 40 homes in this community, changing residents’ lives completely.
“Before, we got sick three times a month,” said Selvin. “I developed an itchy rash, and they said it was because of water. But now it doesn't happen anymore.”
The community health centre confirmed that water-borne diseases have declined. Its chief medical officer, Juan Carlos López, said patients have fewer problems with diarrhoea, skin infections and other illnesses. “We've realized that fewer children are underweight now,” Dr. López said. “Previously, water-borne parasites robbed them nutrients.”
The lack of drinking water not only affected children's health in Cerritos II, it also seriously hindered their access to education.
“I know several children who went to fill water jugs each morning. That’s why they could not always come to school,” Selvin said.
At Jose Trinidad Reyes School, the situation has changed dramatically. Fatima Santos, the school’s only teacher, said that children’s attendance has improved, as has the quality of life. “Before, we had no latrines, and they had to go to someone’s house for their needs,” Ms. Santos said.
During our visit, the students proudly demonstrated how to wash their hands. They have also learned to use water responsibly. “We have trained them, which is always difficult, but the truth is that they have adapted very well,” Ms. Santos said.
“Today we take care of the water,” said Selvin. “I learned to wash my hands or brush my teeth, and then close the tap to avoid waste.”
The community is committed to advancing the project. “We believe that coming together, and being organized, gives us strength. All of us worked in a way or other – with our cars, with labour, laying pipes,” said Water Board Treasurer María Aidé Funes.
Empowering communities to maintain their own water and sanitation projects is a UNICEF priority. UNICEF is also working to promote good hygiene practices and to monitor water quality, which are essential to ensuring children’s rights to health, education and development.
Still, must more must be done to guarantee these rights. According to the World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, an estimated 1 million people in Honduras still lack access to clean water, and about 1.8 million live without access to basic sanitation.

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