Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in schools is a major preoccupation for the SWA partner countries. In the run-up to the 2019 SWA Sector Ministers’ Meeting, the country briefs submitted by the government partners showed that WASH in schools was one of the main themes related to Leave No One Behind. Inadequate WASH in institutions (such as schools and health care facilities) is a major reason for inequalities. Accordingly, several countries presented priorities, plans or commitments related to WASH-in-schools, with countries such as Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gambia, Namibia, Sudan, Cambodia and Nepal, working on different aspects of this important area.
Water supply and hygiene in schools are implemented as major preventative measures against COVID-19. Several SWA partner countries expressed the need to learn more on this issue, to implement large-scale WASH-in-schools projects. In keeping with the growing country focus of SWA, as stated in the SWA Strategic Framework 2020 – 2030, the SWA, via its Secretariat, is helping identify, mobilise and provide targeted support to partner countries on the areas of need. Support on WASH-in-schools consists of several elements – link with technical expert bodies like Hygiene Hub; peer-to-peer, South-South learning from countries working over the past several years; collaborations with multi-country partners like UNICEF and international expertise from partnerships in Education.
Following the expression and confirmation of this need, the SWA Secretariat facilitated South-South learning between SWA partner countries on 16 June. Over 25 participants from 10 countries and across the five constituencies learnt notably from the multi-year experience in Côte d’Ivoire, where the “Programme de Latrinisation des Ecoles en Milieu Rural” (Rural school WASH programme) is an integral part of the government’s social programme 2019-2020. This programme includes the building of latrines in schools, their operation and use as well as sensitization. The Rural school WASH programme, which includes building, operation of latrines as well as sensitization, has been one of the key axes of the government’s social programme for 2019 and 2020. Hélène Bragori, Director of Rural sanitation in the Ministry of Sanitation, spoke of the programme’s evolution, current status, technical features and future plans.
As an introduction, Mali also presented the overall status of WASH-in-schools. The situation in Mali is representative of many SWA partner countries – WASH facilities in schools are severely inadequate and consequently affect the health and education of children (dropouts among adolescent girls are high, and schools are often places in which children catch water-borne and hygiene-related diseases). One of the notable actions in Mali is the collaboration between the WASH and Education clusters to create a minimum WASH package for schools. However, there are severe gaps that hinder Mali achieving the standards for WASH-in-schools, in terms of financial resources, coordination and harmonization of interventions according to norms, common understanding and indicators for WASH-in-schools, and sustainability of services.
The audience raised a series of questions following the presentations and responses to – and discussions around – these questions helped identify some key factors in the success of WASH-in-schools:
- In the first phase, the WASH facilities (toilets and handwashing) – were treated as add-ons in the schools. In the next phase, for new schools in construction, WASH facilities are integrated into the initial architecture plans of the schools.
- The successful running and use of the latrines is dependent on constant water supply, and thus needs collaboration between two sub-sectors (similarly, the success of hygiene depends on both the hygiene intervention itself and the availability of water). Therefore, priority must be given to working with the water supply ministry (or the respective department) so that water supply is prioritised to schools. In parallel, to ensure success, provisions must be made for “offline” water supply via localised water storage solutions.
- Sensitisation about WASH practices is as important as the installation and operation of WASH services. Keeping this in mind, large-scale sensitisation was done via selected local NGOs specifically trained for the purpose. This sensitisation is being extended to other government bodies using topical arguments like cholera and COVID-19 to sensitise on the importance of WASH services.
- Resistance to installation and use of WASH in schools and communities was overcome using contextualised arguments. Firstly, communication is done around an ambitious overall vision (“to have the first ODF generation”) to rally support. Secondly, detailed discussions with communities and their leaders allow the programme to formulate adapted responses – for instance, the economic (cost-effectiveness) argument, or the argument related to health (combating water-borne diseases like cholera).
- The successful implementation of WASH in schools over the past two years has helped Côte d’Ivoire fight the spread of COVID-19 in rural areas since the hygiene facilities and practices were already a part of “business as usual”.
The South-South learning on WASH-in-schools has given rise to three further actions and collaborations. Firstly, an in-depth bilateral conversation is planned between the Sanitation directors in Côte d’Ivoire and Madagascar, on the strategic aspects. Moreover, a technical discussion is planned on sanitation technologies used in Côte d’Ivoire’s programme and also used in the Sanitation Services Delivery project conducted in multiple countries in collaboration with USAID. Finally, the SWA Secretariat will explore ways to support Côte d’Ivoire in the future evolution of the Rural schools WASH programme, notably in strengthening the evidence base and then using it to advocate for scale-up.