Nowadays, prospect is on hold in over half of the developing world’s primary schools without access to water and sanitation. On a global scale, 1 in 9 people still have no access to clean water. Children often bear the burden of walking miles each day to find water in streams and ponds, full of waterborne disease that is making them and their families sick.
Where there is not enough water, hygiene is poor and diseases spread. Diarrhoea and worm infestation are commonplace. Now, during the COVID-19 disaster, hand washing has become even more important.
Purified drinking water on the playground is a luxury for many learners. Even flushing a toilet and washing hands in a basin is often a challenge when necessary maintenance on amenities is not carried out due to the lack of funds.
The ultimate aim of any education system is to equip children with the numeracy, literacy and wider skills that they need to realize their potential and that their countries need to generate jobs, innovation and economic growth.
Just over a third of schools lacked adequate toilet facilities, affecting more than 620 million children. Almost one in five primary schools and one in eight secondary schools were considered to have no sanitation.
Nearly half lacked proper handwashing facilities, essential for helping prevent the spread of infections and disease. Nearly 900 million children were affected, report noted. Sub-Saharan Africa, East and Southeast Asia had some of the worst facilities.
But many children are forced to risk their health to take part in classes, according to the report produced jointly by the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and the WHO in 2019.
Access to safe and clean water, adequate sanitation facilities and good hygiene practices are all important as they contribute to the well- being of children, prevent children from contracting water-borne diseases.
The report found nearly a third of primary and secondary schools lacked a safe and reliable drinking water supply, affecting nearly 570 million children. Nearly 20 percent of schools had no safe drinking water at all.
Unavailability of water and basic sanitation in the school not only affects children’s physical development, but also school attendance and academic performance especially the girls who have reached puberty. Many studies have revealed that girls do not attend school during menstruation if clean and adequate latrines are not available.
Waterborne diseases kill tens of thousands of children in Kenya alone every year, while dehydration and water-carrying blight the lives of the rest, making further development almost impossible.
School headmaster, Mr Robert Muthui recalls how the lack of water had taken a toll on his school. “Access to safe and clean water has been one of the biggest challenges for this school. During the drought season, the attendance of pupils reduced due to diseases, while some pupils come later because they spent most of their night fetching water.”
“Some of the children used to complain of hunger because they did not have water to prepare food at home. We have no school feeding program here and sometimes we could send them home to rest. It was ironic teaching them about hand washing yet we could not provide water for hand washing,” says Mr Muthui.
Mr Muthui sent many children to the hospital as a result of waterborne diseases, some of them complaining of high fever, stomach upsets and diarrhoea.
Water can change everything
Every child has the right to be in a school that provides basic services such as clean and safe water and healthy sanitation.
There is much to celebrate in Africa’s social and economic progress over the past decade. But if the region is to build on the foundations that have been put in place, it has to stop the haemorrhage of skills, talent and human potential caused by the crisis in education.
If everyone is concerned in seeing our children learn and acquire foundational literacy and numeracy competencies the government should make an intentional effort to allocate adequate funds to improve water and sanitation infrastructures and services in primary schools, in order to enhance school attendance and improve learning outcomes.
Provision of adequate water and sanitation services in schools should be a matter of priority and not scarcity of resources. Development partners should also support the education sector with significant funds to improve school water and sanitation services.
The benefits of sanitation and hygiene education are not limited to students, but extend to entire communities. It requires hygiene education as part of water project implemented, so that the community understands the importance of safe hygiene practices, clean water, and effective sanitation to prevent water-related diseases.
These trainings usually should take the form of a series of town hall style meetings and workshops using creative and culturally sensitive communication tools, to increase awareness about the use of safe water and good hygiene practices.
Elders are the key opinion leaders and women are traditionally responsible for domestic water supply and sanitation, as well as maintaining a hygienic home environment, so the involvement of both groups is critical. Water committees should also be trained as health educators to promote appropriate water and hygiene practices.