Fears of malnutrition and other illnesses are mounting in Kiribati as the country grapples with an ongoing drought.
The Kiribati government in June declared a state of disaster after the discovery of high salinity levels in monitoring wells and very low rainfall.
Head of UNICEF in Kiribati, Nick Rice Chudeau, said the drought can lead to poor health and hygiene practices from the lack of clean water.
He said the forecast is worst for the southern islands, which is home to 94,000 people or almost 80 percent of the population.
“During a drought when water becomes scarce, people forfeit hygiene practices like handwashing with soap or bathing and this has a direct impact on children’s health, their nutrition and that can lead to increasing cases of diarrhoea, skin infection or malnutrition.”
Chudeau also said that this impacts women the most.
“Women and girls are often more responsible for bathing children, changing babies, cleaning the house, cooking and preparing meals, and other domestic responsibilities.
“So the lack of access to safe water will directly impact them and their health which makes them more vulnerable during a drought emergency,” he said.
“It is not just affected households. The Ministry of Education said schools have been affected, especially those that rely on shallow wells that have become too brackish. Children are unable to learn if they are dehydrated and the lack of access to water in schools has a direct impact on children’s education, their health and their wellbeing.”
Chadeau said UNICEF is working with the Kiribati government to ensure that children and their families affected by the drought have access to safe drinking water as well as adequate hygiene services to protect them against waterborne diseases.
He said UNICEF is providing essential emergency supplies including first-response household water and sanitation hygiene and dignity kits to about 25,000 people.