The Results are in: Safe Water, Sanitation Prevent 2nd Leading Cause of Death in Children

Perhaps the globe’s most urgent and united mission is the prevention of childhood deaths.

The most up-to-date numbers show that, each year, 480,000 children under the age of 5 die due to diarrheal disease, an illness caused primarily by drinking contaminated water and practicing poor sanitation.

This makes diarrheal disease, an illness that is both preventable and treatable, a leading killer of the world’s youngest children. But, the results are in: 2019 data from Lifewater’s first Vision of a Healthy Village (VHV) program cycle shows that safe water and sanitation practices can virtually eliminate diarrheal disease, saving countless lives of the world’s youngest in the process.

Vision of a Healthy Village is Lifewater’s grassroots program model for solving the global water and sanitation crisis. The model prioritizes community participation, WASH (water access, sanitation, and hygiene) practices, real-time data gathering, and appropriately engineered water technologies.

The purpose? To save lives and create change that lasts for generations to come.

An Ethiopian mother holds her young child.

Safe Water and Sanitation Help Keep Children Alive

In 2015, Lifewater began implementing VHV in the West Arsi zone of Ethiopia.

Two and half years later, at the completion of our first program cycle in the West Arsi zone, on-the-ground staff conducted a statistically significant endline survey to measure progress on indicators such as safe water access and childhood health.

The results are momentous. Of all 371 households surveyed, less than 1% reported having a child with diarrhea in the 7 days prior to the survey. Before Lifewater programs, 12% of families reporting having a child with diarrhea. That’s a 98% decrease in the instances of childhood diarrhea.

Lifewater Programs Created 98% Decrease in Diarrhea, from 12% to 0.2%

Comparison before and after VHV program

Again, almost no child suffered diarrheal diseases at the completion of our programs, meaning a leading cause of death in children was prevented through Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village model for safe water access.


West Arsi Endline Results Highlights

The rolling hills of central Ethiopia are home to some of the most water-poor communities in the world. Children, weighed down by long walks for water and waterborne illness, struggle to attend school. Extreme poverty is further exacerbated by the cost of treatment for waterborne illness.

It’s in these remote places that we are working alongside local communities to bring safe water and improved sanitation to children and their families.

From October 2015 to September 2018, Lifewater operated in eight rural regions in West Arsi and served 33,822 people. Following program completion, staff conducted household and school surveys as well as anonymous focus group discussions to measure WASH progress in the area.

The findings were compared with baseline data taken prior to VHV. Below are highlights of the findings:

1. School Enrollment Increased by 22%, that’s nearly 2,000 more children going to school in the area that weren’t attending before.

Comparison before and after VHV program

2. When Lifewater arrived in the area, only 2% of the homes in the program were using a latrine—a bathroom with a door, a roof, and walls to keep flies out and disease from spreading. At the completion of the programs, 92% of homes had a latrine constructed with their own materials and ingenuity.

Comparison of household latrine access before and after VHV program

3. At the completion of the program, 88% of households reported that their household savings had increased in the past year. Safe water allows children to go to school and parents to go to work, increasing both income and education. As a result, poverty is alleviated through safe water access.

Percentage of people reporting their household savings had increased in the past year. Comparison before and after VHV program

In Ethiopia today, 1 in every 17 children die before turning five years old. Safe water and sanitation are actively helping to reduce this number.

“Before Lifewater, children visited the health clinic at least twice in a month,” Megertu, a community member in West Arsi, said. “But, now it’s not even one child a month because their surroundings are clean and they have access to clean water; it really makes you happy to see children playing happy and healthy.”

Safe water and sanitation are changing lives for children in West Arsi, Ethiopia.

“I have not come across the death of a child from diarrhea for the past two years.” – Community Health Worker

“Thanks to the Almighty Lord, we have safe water for our communities,” Gameda, a community health promoter, said. “Children are safe from diarrhea and other diseases.”

Safaye, a community health worker, was astounded by the decrease in diarrhea cases.

“We saw an average of 60-70 diarrhea cases per year before three years ago… now, prevalence of diarrhea reduced tremendously and we have seen an average 5-10 cases yearly,” she said. “I have not come across the death of a child from diarrhea for the past two years.”

Wolite, a young Ethiopian girl, fills her container with safe water.

Six-year-old Wolite lives in a village in Ethiopia. Donors, alongside her community, invested in her village water project, and she and her family did the difficult work of adopting five hygiene and sanitation practices that are vital to overall health.

Wolite and her siblings stopped becoming so ill. Wolite was able to spend time in school rather than traveling to a nearby pond for water. Her parents no longer fear for the lives of their children.

Their story has since multiplied itself across 6,000+ households in Ethiopia.

The results are in. Safe water and sanitation saves the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable. Communities are empowered to make their own changes. Rejoice with us as we celebrate this great accomplishment and continue to serve communities in great need.


Choose a Village. Change a Life.