14 Nov 2011

Toilets and handwashing key to saving PNG children

10:25 am on 14 November 2011

A water engineer in Papua New Guinea says thousands of children's lives can be saved by people using closed toilets and attention to hand washing.

A Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme engineer, Stuart Jordan, says a community-led sanitation programme has shown villages can improve their hygiene behaviour once they realise what to do.

He says about four million people are using water contaminated with faeces from rivers, and water transport and storage by householders further reduces its quality.

Mr Jordan says statistics from agencies like UNICEF and WHO show poor sanitation means up to 4,000 children under five years are dying each year in PNG from diaorrhea.

"If you have very good hygiene education you can knock out those deaths by about 44 per cent just with hand wash education. You can knock out about 35 per cent of those deaths just by people having latrines. You're talking about 75 per cent of deaths knocked out by toilets and hand wash and this does not require a great big investment of infrastructure."

Mr Jordan says a recent two-day conference in Port Moresby was a very encouraging meeting of many people who are focussed on improving water quality in PNG as European funding cuts loom next year.