Handwashing in the time of climate change

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, a new and innovative group handwashing concept, is being introduced by UNICEF in many countries

Children washing hands
UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Timothy Manyange
04 November 2021

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, a new and innovative group handwashing design, is being introduced by UNICEF with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MOPSE) in Zimbabwe.

This design enables schools to use significantly less water, important at a time when water scarcity is become more common due to climate change. Rather and individual and full taps, the model uses a low-cost PVC pipe with small outlets for water. The pipe is centrally opened and closed by a school staff member and utilizes significantly less water than regular taps.

This cost-effective concept helps ensure regular handwashing in schools to improve hygiene, health and education levels of learners in under-resourced communities.

The model has spots for at least 10 children to wash hands at a time – enabling all children to wash hands quickly and leaving more time to spend in the classroom. “The idea behind this facility which is close to the (school) entrance and near to the classrooms is to make it accessible to everyone and foster the practice of handwashing at a very young age,” said Terence Chanakira, UNICEF WASH Officer.

In previous methods of hand washing, where children jostle for a few taps of water-deprived many from washing their hands properly and many would resort to eating their break or lunch packs without washing their hands.

UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Timothy Manyange

“With this concept more children wash their hands at the same time while facing each other and encouraging one another to properly wash their hands. It is a simple concept but goes a long way in changing behaviors on hygiene practices,” explains Chanakira.

The children are encouraged to wash their hands at critical times like after using the toilet, before they eat and when they have touched dirty surfaces.

“So the more they do it together, the more they internalize it and when they go back home they start to encourage others.

Explaining how it works, Chanakira said it was a simple concept and 10 children will be able to wash their hands at the same time, five on each side and facing each other.

“There will be one lever to open up the ten points so it makes sense if they are using it as a group. We are trying to  run away from the tap system,”

UNICEF initially supported two schools in Harare - including Prospect Primary School - and is now supporting the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to build these facilities in 1000 schools in 2022. 

The Head of Prospect Primary School, Irene Zviripi is elated at the new development.

“Concerning the COVID 19 pandemic it is important that the children wash their hands regularly and we really appreciate the hand washing facility. During break time they need to wash their hands and this facility will help them to stay as clean as possible before consuming their food.”

UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Timothy Manyange

Inclusivity in WASH components…leaving no one behind

As part of the WinS programme, UNICEF has embraced an inclusive approach to close gaps and deliver in a more holistic way – not only empowering the education system but ensuring all students fully benefit indluding on issues around menstrual hygiene, disability, age and others.

“If you are looking at it from the angle of inclusion there is a lot of structures in schools which may not be friendly to those living with disability. So some may end up not coming to school because there are no structures that will support them for their personal hygiene,” said Chanakira.

Processes like hand washing and using the toilet need to be tailor-made and designed specifically for those with disabilities.

“One of our strongest points of emphasis is inclusivity. These days we are in the era of the SDGs and our focus is to ‘leave no one behind,” he said.