800 schoolbags line the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in moving tribute to daily child deaths

24 January 2019
Toilets, Hygiene, Human rights, Water, Children
WaterAid laid 800 schoolbags on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in a moving tribute to the number of children who die every day from dirty water, never reaching their fifth birthday or first day at school.
Image: WaterAid/ Oliver Dixon

January 24, 2019 - WaterAid placed 800 children’s schoolbags on the famous steps of St Paul’s Cathedral (London) today as a stark reminder of the number of young children’s lives lost every single day due to dirty water and poor sanitation. 
Each of the Cathedral’s 24 entrance steps represented one hour – and the 33 children younger than five who die every hour – a whole class that never even made it to school, all for the lack of something as basic as clean water.  

On the bags in the front row were the names of real children whose lives were tragically cut short by diarrheal diseases linked to dirty water and poor sanitation, some as young as 9-month-old Arena from Madagascar, and some just about to start school, like from 5-year-old Jennifer from Zambia. 
Actor Dougray Scott joined WaterAid’s thought-provoking tribute, asking the  public to support the international charity’s fundraising efforts to raise $2 million (£1.5 million) to get clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to everyone, everywhere.
WaterAid Ambassador Dougray Scott, (Mission Impossible II, My Week with Marilyn, The Woman in White) said:  

Actor and WaterAid Ambassador Dougray Scott looks at the 800 schoolbags laid by WaterAid on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in a moving tribute to the number of children who die every day from dirty water, never reaching their fifth birthday or first ...
“The sea of bags lining the steps of St Paul’s is a stark reminder of the sheer numbers of young children who won’t live long enough to make it to their first day at school because they lack something as basic as clean water. It’s a dreadful thought for any parent; and this tragic waste of life is entirely preventable.  

“Through my work with WaterAid, I have seen the incredible difference clean water and decent toilets makes, particularly for children. Clean water close to home helps keep children healthy and in school, giving them the education they deserve so they can reach their potential. By supporting ‘The Water Effect’ appeal, we can all help build a brighter future for children around the world.” 
Dougray Scott

One in nine people around the world lack access to clean water close to home, while one in three have no decent sanitation. Together, clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene transform people’s health and create a powerful ripple effect, enabling children to go to school and their parents to earn a better living. That’s the water effect. 


Haja, 31, from Tombohuaun in the Sierra Leonean jungle, has lost two young children to diarrhea caused by the dirty water the family drank from a natural spring. She said: 


“I realised after the death of my children that the water is not good to drink. I look to the future and hope that such things won’t happen again.” 


WaterAid has worked in Haja’s village to bring clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, and continues to work with the most marginalised communities in some of the poorest places in the world.  


Marcus Missen, Director of Fundraising and Communications at WaterAid UK, said:  


“Every single day, around 800 children under the age of five die because they are denied access to clean water and decent toilets. Many more will miss school because they have to spend hours collecting water or are sick from drinking dirty water. But it doesn’t have to be this way. WaterAid is working towards a world where everyone everywhere has clean water and decent sanitation, and all of us can help make this a reality. Even small donations could help make all the difference, helping to transform a child’s life.” 


Children aged from five to 11 from Wyvil Primary School in London painted a sign to appear at the front of the steps at St Paul’s Cathedral. 


Joana, aged 9, a pupil from the school who came to see the installation, said: 


“I can’t understand why some children don’t have water. It’s not very fair – I want water for everyone!” 


Sue Armitage, art teacher at Wyvil Primary School said: 


“The children at our school were shocked to learn just how many children their age have no clean water to drink; they’re eager to support WaterAid to help change the lives of others for the better.” 



For more information or to donate, please visit www.wateraid.org/us


Download photos: https://wateraid.assetbank-server.com/assetbank-wateraid/images/assetbox/fa71fe25-55e9-4445-80a8-8c74e068c6e9/assetbox.html 

Download video: https://wateraid.assetbank-server.com/assetbank-wateraid/action/viewAsset?id=127015&index=0&total=1&view=viewSearchItem  


For more information, contact Emily Haile, [email protected]


Notes to Editors: 




WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/us, follow @WaterAidAmerica or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid America on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WateraidAmerica


  • 785 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's over 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.
  • Every $1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of $4 in increased productivity.
  • Just $24 can provide one person with clean water.

To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database www.WASHwatch.org