Improved access to drinking water and sanitation helps protect students from infections in Pakistan

Thanks to funding from the United Kingdom’s FCDO and Unilever, UNICEF-supported WASH facilities in schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa help students adhere to COVID SoPs.

White Rice/A. Sami Malik
Muhammad Kashif, a 10th grade student at the Government High School, Hashimabad, Jamrud discusses the importance of following COVID SoPs and how that can help everyone stay safe from the virus, during a class session.
UNICEF/Pakistan/Naveed Ahmed
28 May 2021

PESHAWAR, Pakistan –  28 May 2021:  Like in many other places of the world, the discovery of the first case of COVID-19 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Pakistan’s Northwestern province, in February 2020 soon had an impact on all aspects of life, including education.  As the number of cases rose, the Government established a lockdown, temporarily closing schools and postponing exams.

“A strange kind of depression set in as all public places closed down,” recalls 15-year-old Mushahid, a student at the Hashimabad Jamrud Government High School. “As our school closed, our Headteacher started a WhatsApp group so that academic work could continue. However, I neither had a cell phone, nor the resources to buy one and could not connect with the group.”

“When some of us took this problem to our Headteacher, he explained that assignments to be completed at home during the school closure period will be given to students who do not have access to the WhatsApp group,” said Mushahid.

Students who did not have access to cell phones and internet, could contact their respective teachers by phone to seek guidance regarding their home assignments. When the schools reopened, teachers checked all the homework and awarded marks which carried a certain percentage towards the result of their final exams.  

On top of disrupting the academic calendar and the learning process, the pandemic also put an end to co-curricular activities. The school’s basketball team, which was preparing for an inter-school tournament, had to cancel all practice sessions.

Basit (15) who is one of the best basketball players in the school, was upset, and so were his teammates.

“All I wanted to believe was that we were sportsmen and could never fall sick,” he says Basit. “It was hard to accept that a virus could disrupt our lives to this extent. School was closed, our parents didn’t want us to step out of the house, and above all, our basketball sessions were suspended,” the adolescent tells.

At last, following several weeks of lockdown, the number of COVID-19 cases diminished, and the situation came back to normal. In Hashimabad, where no COVID_19 case had been reported the school reopened, much to the delight of the students.  

Before letting schools reopen, the authorities had advised all management teams to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 preventive behaviours and Standard Operating Procedures such as frequent hand washing with soap or hand sanitizers, correct wearing of face masks at all times, and adherence to physical distancing.

“It was hard to accept that a virus could disrupt our lives to this extent. School was closed, our parents didn’t want us to step out of the house, and above all, our basketball sessions were suspended"

Basit, 15 year old Student

This posed a challenge for most public schools located in rural areas, including that in Hashimabad. They were not equipped with adequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities to support effective infection prevention and control.

This is why UNICEF stepped in to support the government’s decision to reopen the schools and ensure that children could have continuous access to education.

Students at the GHS Hashimabad avail the facility of safe drinking water from water chillers provided by UNICEF.
UNICEF/Pakistan/Naveed Ahmed
Students at the GHS Hashimabad avail the facility of safe drinking water from water chillers provided by UNICEF.

Thanks to funds from the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Unilever, UNICEF installed a new water supply system, four solar-powered water chillers and three handwashing stations with running water and soap at Hashimabad school. This made it possible for the 700 students to access safe drinking water and sanitation and stay safe.

UNICEF also provided sanitizers and other cleaning supplies to ensure that all areas within the school premises could be properly and regularly disinfected.  A dozen new waste bins were also placed around the school for waste disposal.

UNICEF supported 136 healthcare facilities and 260 schools in KP with Infection, Prevention and Control – WASH services. A total of 492 handwashing stations have been installed at public places with the facility for over 300,000 people to wash their hands daily. Hygiene promotion messages were also disseminated through the project that reached nearly 1 million people.

“UNICEF`s intervention could not have come at a better time,” says Mr. Abdul Rahman, the School’s Principal.

The Principal of GHS Hashimabad, Mr. Abdul Rehman proudly explains about the new WASH facilities installed in his school by UNICEF with funding support from FCDO and Unilever.
UNICEF/Pakistan/Naveed Ahmed
The Principal of GHS Hashimabad, Mr. Abdul Rehman proudly explains about the new WASH facilities installed in his school by UNICEF with funding support from FCDO and Unilever.

“With all the washrooms in the school now equipped with running hot and cold water, students have found it easier to adhere to hygienic practices,” he explains.

“It has enabled students and staff members to strictly adhere to the SoPs, not only a school, but also at home and even elsewhere.”“We are proud that we managed to retain all our students -- not a single child has dropped out. Moreover, no COVID-19 case has been reported in this school among the students and staff,” Mr. Abdul Rahman adds with pride.