Of Toilets and Schools

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According to international NGO WaterAid, India has the second worst sanitation access in the world, accounting for 43% of the world’s unserved sanitation population.  Moreover, as per a UNICEF country survey from 2004, rural areas of India are particularly lacking in sanitation infrastructure, with only 33% of villages using “adequate sanitation facilities.”

The effect of inadequate sanitation facilities and practices is staggering, resulting in poor community health, low education levels, and unforeseen economic costs for poor families.  This problem is especially acute with respect to schools, as unhygienic pratices within school translate into unhygienic practices within the home.  Moreover, in schools where separate toilet facilities are not provided for girls, a higher proportion of girls drop out of school, especially after the onset of menstruation.  Unfortunately, the majority of schools in developing countries do not have access to either basic sanitation facilities or clean drinking water, a problem that activists such as Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, believe can be ameliorated through minimal funding and a concerted effort on behalf of NGOs, governments, and local communities.   In fact, as quoted in an article published by OneWorld South Asia, “water experts estimate that an additional $15 billion a year for the next seven years could bring safe water and sanitation facilities to half the communities in the world that still need them.”

With this thinking in mind,  the Wash-In-Schools initative, spearheaded by Water Advocates, was launched yesterday.  The program aims to “bring clean drinking water, toilet facilities, and hygiene education to 1,000 schools in developing countries during its first phase.”  In order to maximize impact, the initiative is bringing together a host of actors from a variety of sectors – NGOs, corporate executives, bankers, school children, and government officials.  Aside from the direct benefits,

 The initiative would also have significant spillover benefits, participants said, as women and children wouldn’t have to walk such long distances to gather water for their families, thus leaving more time for studying, working, and other activities. Fewer sick community members would mean fewer girls and boys leaving school to care for relatives, and children would be expected to pass on the health-safety information they learn at school to their parents, out-of-school peers, and others in the community. 

At ThinkChange India, we laud this partnership, but hope that the money infused into this campaign for building sanitation facilities is also supplemented by a more long-term, education-based campaign in order to alter individual/community behavior/attitudes towards sanitation.  Often, culture, tradition, religion, and lack of education serve as barriers to safe sanitation practices, and even in instances where communities have access to sanitation infrastructure, they do not capitalize on usage.  The installation of sanitation facilities or clean water without a significant attitudinal shift with regards to sanitation practices would, I believe, have minimal impact.  In this instance, the integration of sanitation and clean water practices into the school curriculum would address both physical needs and long-term mindset.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia 

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