WATER, SANITATION AND HYGIENE CRISIS

Toilets, textbooks equally important

Toilet:pupil ratio is 1:200 for girls and 1:230 for boys against WHO recommendation of 1:35 for boys and 1:25 for girls.

In Summary

• Pupils in most large public schools must wait for more than 10 minutes to use a bathroom.

• Lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities is associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal and communicable diseases.

Mrima Primary School pupils play with water during the launch of the Mombasa county public primary schools water, sanitation and hygiene programme on January 23.
GOOD HYGIENE: Mrima Primary School pupils play with water during the launch of the Mombasa county public primary schools water, sanitation and hygiene programme on January 23.

Economic and public health literature suggests that improved access to water and sanitation saved billions of lives and helped nascent industrial economies thrive. However, in recent history, Access to water, sanitation and hygiene have been overlooked as critical development issues.

Thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are back on the global development agenda. The SDGs seek to achieve universal access to WASH and calls for attention to gender equality and especially empowerment of women and girls.

Achieving universal access to basic WASH services, especially in schools, by 2030 presents a huge challenge. According to Unesco/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme, an estimated 570 million children have limited or no access to safe drinking water. Similarly, 620 million children have limited or no access to sanitation.

Achieving WASH targets is not just a nice thing. Studies have shown that lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities is associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal and communicable diseases.

The toilets are seldom cleaned. Hygiene is a serious concern because pupils don’t have water to wash their hands after they visit the toilet. Water supply to the school was disconnected because of unpaid bills.

There is also evidence to show that a higher cumulative burden of diarrhoea, which is largely attributed to poor access to safe water, increases the risk of stunting. Moreover, stunting is associated with cognitive impairment.

We are facing a WASH crisis. Last year Frank Primary School in Lugari risked closure because the school had only six pit latrines shared among 330 pupils. The ratio of pupils to toilet in Kenyan primary schools is estimated at 1:200 for girls and 1:230 for boys. The World Health Organization recommends a pupil-toilet ratio of 1:35 for boys and 1:25 for girls.

The water and sanitation crisis and its impacts on hygiene have grave implications on the quality of teaching and learning. Given the limited access to toilet facilities, pupils in most large public schools must wait for more than 10 minutes to use a bathroom. This rather long wait affects class attendance and disrupts learning.

In June 2018 the Laikipia governor stunned friends and foe when he got up from his seat and snatched the microphone from Tharua Primary School pupils who in a song asked him to provide toilets for their school.

Similarly, in February 2018, pupils, teachers and management of Bishop Hannington Khuduru Primary School in Busia appealed to county officials to build more toilets, in addition to the one toilet shared by teachers and pupils.

The grave water, sanitation and hygiene situation is not limited to remote rural schools. Public schools in large towns, and yes Nairobi are not spared. Last month I shared images of toilets in urban public schools in up-market Nairobi neighbourhoods via Twitter https://twitter.com/alexawiti/status/1117644095164436481. They are appalling.

The toilets are seldom cleaned. Hygiene is a serious concern because pupils don’t have water to wash their hands after they visit the toilet. Water supply to the school was disconnected because of unpaid bills.

Like textbooks and other vital school supplies, the government must provide stable and optimal budgetary resources to provide adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services to all public schools. There is also a social enterprise opportunity here.