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World Water Day

World Water Day is marked annually on 22 March around the globe. This year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)/World Health Organisation (WHO) Joint Monitoring Report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012, announced that the world had met its MDG (Millennium Development Goal) target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. Despite this achievement, ensuring every child’s right to water, sanitation and hygiene education remains a major challenge for policy-makers, school administrators and communities in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Through its water and sanitation programmes (Wash) in 94 countries, UNICEF works towards making schools healthier. Three activities – washing hands daily with soap, brushing teeth daily with fluoride toothpaste, and deworming twice a year – are at the core of Wash. The purpose is to lower rates of diarrhoea, respiratory infections, worm infections and severe tooth decay. Conquering these health concerns can reduce school absenteeism significantly, says UNICEF spokesperson, Susan Durston, adding that “schools are often the focal points for a community’s water supply”. Additionally, as they reach puberty, girls need access to clean water and private toilets.

UNICEF reports that a lack of quality data on Wash programmes in schools is a significant barrier to identifying children’s needs and monitoring progress. In developing countries, it’s common for communities to report that a school with 300 children and just one latrine hole, has sufficient access to sanitation. Survey data reveals that children with disabilities are also often less likely to have access to adequate sanitation.

Murat Sahin, UNICEF advisor to Wash, reports that in many countries, women and girls are responsible for being water carriers. Wash schools’ evaluations in Tanzania, Kenya, Bangladesh and India indicate that where water sources were relocated closer to homes, girls were absent less frequently from schools. This is also the case where there is more hand washing and very high toilet use. Sahin added that a further barrier was that many communities consider it taboo to discuss sanitationrelated issues.

Category: Winter 2012

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