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Raising clean hands in Afghanistan's 'WASH' friendly schools

Call to Action on water, sanitation and hygiene

© UNICEF/2010/cornelia walther
From left: UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Peter Crowley and Afghan Ministers of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and Education

By Cornelia Walther

KABUL, Afghanistan, 16 September 2010 – Designed to increase investment in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for Afghan schools, a new Call to Action has been jointly issued by the government’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. Its intent is to engage policy makers at all levels, involve multiple stakeholders and monitor WASH in schools.

Every child has the right to safe water, improved sanitation facilities and hygiene education. Yet fulfilling this right is a major challenge in some countries. According to MoE data, only 45 per cent of schoolchildren have access to safe water and only 40 per cent of schools have separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys.

Bolstered investment

The number of schools offering general education in the country has increased from 6,039 in 2002 to 10,998 in 2008, and the MoE predicts that number will rise to 16,500 by 2014. The net enrolment of girls and boys in general education has also increased, trending upward from 2.3 million in 2002 to 6.2 million in 2008, with an estimated 10 million children to be enrolled by 2014.

These increases will require bolstered investment to support WASH in schools. The new standard school designs include safe water and improved sanitation facilities for all children, including children with disabilities. There are also plans to include these facilities – including privacy walls – in existing schools for girls.

WASH in schools instills pride in students by affording them a high measure of dignity and privacy. In turn, it enables these children to become agents of change for improving water, sanitation and hygiene practices within their own families and communities.

Present and future health

Through these practices, young people realize their full potential now, while they prepare for the future as healthy adults. Most important, they will be able to share this legacy with their own children when they become parents.

  • With support from the donor governments of Japan, Finland, Sweden, Canada and other partners, UNICEF is:
  • Introducing menstrual hygiene and health in schools
  • Standardizing school sanitary toilet designs, separate for girls and boys, including facilities for children with disabilities
  • Grading schools into categories based on WASH parameters, and targeting those with the lowest grades
  • Developing school WASH plans to be implemented by the school community (including teachers, students, school management committees and parent-teacher associations)
  • Preparing guidelines and standards for WASH in schools jointly with the MRRD.

Raising awareness

Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Jarullah Mansoori said the joint Call to Action for WASH in schools would change the situation for Afghan children.

“I am confident that this initiative will raise general awareness on the importance of WASH in schools,” he said, adding that it will “encourage our government and partners to take necessary actions aiming at covering all schools with WASH facilities by 2015.”

According to UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Peter Crowley, WASH in schools provides healthy, safe and secure school environments that can protect children from health hazards, abuse and exclusion. It helps ensure quality education, which in turn, leads to better health and nutrition outcomes, especially for girls.

“WASH in schools significantly reduces hygiene-related disease, increases students’ attendance and learning achievements, and contributes to dignity and gender equality,” said Mr. Crowley. “In pursuing this vision, UNICEF is pleased to be able to work in close collaboration with the MRRD, the MoE and the MoPH, and is grateful for the support of donors.”



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