|© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0225/ Estey|
|Students wash their hands with soap and water at Ban Pho Primary School in Bac Han District in Viet Nam. The UNICEF-supported school promotes hygiene education.|
NEW YORK, USA, 17 August 2009 – Global leaders and policy makers are gathering in Sweden this week to discuss water-related challenges as World Water Week convenes in Stockholm.
From 16 – 22 August, experts in all fields will be provided with an opportunity to examine the impact of water deficits and climate change on poverty, health, gender equality and the environment.
UNICEF, the lead agency working at both local and national levels in the most-challenged countries, will use the forum to highlight the successes of its 'WASH in Schools' programme, which is founded on the belief that access to water and sanitation in the classroom is a prerequisite for basic education.
“Without access to WASH in school facilities, children will not continue to attend, and they will be hampered in terms of their education outcomes,” says UNICEF WASH in Schools advisor Murat Sahin.
An alarming state for schools
Globally, more than 50 per cent of schools lack access to a safe water supply. Moreover, nearly two thirds of schools have no access to sanitation facilities.
“It is alarming,” concludes Mr. Sahin, noting that national policy makers need to invest in physical WASH infrastructure in addition to resources like hygiene education and curriculum.
Currently, only 27 countries have a national action plan for child-friendly water sanitation facilities. UNICEF has identified 60 countries as priorities for the WASH in Schools programme implementation by the year 2015.
|Students at Bosalisani Primary School in DR Congo, where a UNICEF-supported Healthy School programme helps provide gender-separated latrines, safe water and hygiene education.|
Success breeds emulation
The effectiveness of WASH in Schools is well-documented. In Bangladesh, providing sanitary latrines in schools has helped boost girls’ enrolment by 11 per cent. Studies in India show a resulting improvement in academic performance of up to 25 per cent.
The success has helped spread the programme from 22 countries in 2002 to 88 countries in 2008.
“This shows the recognition of the problem as well as the enthusiasm and energy in addressing it,” says Mr. Sahin.
Beyond the classroom
The WASH in Schools approach is not confined to the classroom; it also provides outreach potential. The schools practicing good hygiene and sanitation are catalysts for community-wide behaviour change.
Nepal, Sierra Leone and Pakistan have all adopted a 'School-Led Total Sanitation' model to put students at the centre of a social movement towards improved health.
“The children who get the messages reach out to peers, they reach out to siblings in the household and also to the community with the message of the importance of hygiene practices, as well as know-how of the importance of sanitation and water supply technologies,” says Mr. Sahin.
'Water for Life'
UNICEF will lead a seminar on WASH in Schools at the Stockholm summit this week.
Achieving the Millennium Development Goal targets for water and sanitation will have wide-ranging benefits including yielding greater socioeconomic returns via improved health, a productive workforce and educated children.
The United Nations declared 2005-2015 the International Decade for Action: 'Water for Life'.
World Water Week
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