Sierra Leone News: Lack of access to clean water, toilets puts children’s education at risk

Millions of children are going to school without basic hygiene facilities, and the goal of universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene remains “a huge challenge,” the United Nations warned on Monday 27th August 2018.
A new joint UN agency study, Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools: 2018 Global Baseline Report, said that good hygiene facilities in schools provide the basis of a healthy learning environment, and that girls are more likely to attend when they are on their period.
Moreover, children who pick up good hygiene habits at school can reinforce positive life-long behaviours in their homes and communities, said the report.
However, millions of children are going to school without basic hygiene facilities: over 30% of schools worldwide do not provide safe drinking water; a third of schools do not provide the most basic of toilet facilities such as septic tank, pit latrines or composting toilets and nearly 900 million children go to schools with no handwashing facilities with soap and water.
In Sierra Leone, the report noted, only 19.0% of people wash their hands with soap after contact with faeces; 66.3% wash with water only and 14.7% did not wash their hands at all. Their hand washing practices are poorer before contact with food with 10.2% washing their hands with water and soap, 48.3% with water only and 41.5% do not wash their hands at all.
In addition to the lack of WASH facilities, inconsistent access to soap is another of the big barriers. The study shows that approximately half of primary schools in the country have access to improved water supply and sanitation facilities. Despite the millions of dollars of donor funds through WASH activities, schools remain a hygiene disaster when it comes to children and handwashing.
However, the compliance to the national standards for WASH in schools is a big challenge, the report said. “ Only 9.5% of schools have improved water supply facilities up to the standards in their school compound. And half of them are not functional.”
The report concludes that 4.6% of primary schools meet the national standards in sanitation facilities adding that schoolchildren in 40.4% of surveyed schools practice open defecation in school and non-existence, unhygienic conditions of latrine and lack of privacy such as no doors are three leading causes of open defecation.
The annual report is produced by the World Health Organization/’UN Childrens Fund Joint Monitoring Programme, or JMP, which has been monitoring global progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene since 1990.
Commenting on the report, Kelly Ann Naylor, Global Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, said, “If education is the key to helping children escape poverty, access to water and sanitation is key to helping children safely maximize their education. To neglect this is to be careless with the well-being and health of children.”
Universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene in schools is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but achieving this ambitious target presents a still huge challenge.
By Sylvia Villa
Wednesday August 29, 2018.

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