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Water and sanitation in schools

Water and sanitation in schools

Unsafe water and unhygienic conditions not only have a detrimental effect on the health of under-fives but also have an impact on the health, attendance and learning capacities of school-age children.

UNICEF is promoting an additional target alongside those of the MDGs, which is to ensure that all schools have adequate child-friendly water and sanitation facilities, along with hygiene-education programmes. The Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 emphasized sanitation in schools as a priority action, while the Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 2005 reiterated this position and also emphasized the need for hygiene education in schools.

Providing adequate water and sanitation in schools is essential if the enrolment, learning and retention of girls is to improve and is key to meeting MDGs 2 and 3. Lack of appropriately private and sanitary facilities has a greater impact on girls than boys, contributing to decisions on whether they ever attend, and then influencing how long they stay in school. Girls sometimes do not attend school during menstruation or drop out at puberty because of a lack of sanitation facilities that are separate for girls and boys in schools. In addition, adolescent girls are particularly at risk of anaemia aggravated by parasitic infections and ‘iron stress’ when sanitation is inadequate or unavailable at school or in the home.
All children perform better and have enhanced self-esteem in a clean, hygienic environment. Properly used and maintained sanitation facilities and an adequate supply of water for personal hygiene and hand washing prevent infections and infestations, while also contributing to overall public health and environmental protection.

Programmes that combine improved sanitation and hand-washing facilities with hygiene education in schools can improve the health of children for life and can promote positive change in communities. Field assessments show that teaching children the importance of hand washing and other good hygiene habits promotes increased knowledge and positive behaviour change, especially when the schools are equipped with an adequate number of safe toilets or latrines and sufficient water for washing.