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Civil society partnerships

Water, sanitation and hygiene

Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services coupled with poor hygiene practices affect millions of children every day through illness, death, impoverishment and lack of opportunities for development. The availability of good water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools – and education about these issues – is critical for facilitating children’s right to water, sanitation and hygiene as well as their right to education. Loss of school days due to diarrhoea, intestinal worms and other illnesses caused by poor water and hygiene greatly affects learning and development. When schools lack private and decent sanitation facilities, girls in particular are denied access to education. Girls and female teachers also lose days due to the lack of facilities that take menstrual hygiene into consideration. Parents are less productive due to illness and time taken collecting water and thus less able to provide adequately for their children’s needs. Inequities in access to water and sanitation are made worse by humanitarian disasters and fragile contexts. Given that about two-thirds of schools, globally, are faith-related it is vital that these faith communities provide facilities and effective water, sanitation and hygiene education in their schools.

Why partner with religious communities for water, sanitation and hygiene programming?

Linking faith with construction of water facilities and toilets in schools does not sound like an obvious link, yet it is important.

Water is the most essential element for human survival and as such has a prominent place in many of the world’s faith traditions. Cleansing with water is a nearly universal metaphor for spiritual cleansing, expressed in rituals such as bathing in the Ganges River for Hindus, washing before prayers in a mosque or baptism in the Christian tradition.

 What can religious communities do to promote water, sanitation and hygiene?

  • Highlight the importance of water in faith traditions, particularly as it relates to worship and rituals such as cleansing, purifying, baptizing, etc. Religious leaders can use such opportunities to reinforce the need for clean water and good sanitation and challenge attitudes and practices that run counter to good sanitation and hygiene.
  • Provide clean water and well-maintained hand washing and sanitation facilities in places of worship, religious schools and other facilities to model good practice for the community. In emergencies, these may be used as centres for water storage and distribution.
  • Include lessons about the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene and good practices in the curriculum of religious and faith-related schools.
  • Conduct public awareness and, particularly with religious youth, peer-to-peer campaigns illustrating the importance of and demonstrating good water, sanitation and hygiene practices.
  • Utilize religious media to educate the public about the importance of safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices, particularly in schools and other places where children assemble.



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