“We must prioritize children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”
NEW YORK/GENEVA, Aug 13, 2020 (BNC Network): As schools worldwide struggle with reopening, the latest data from the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveal that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic hand-washing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Global school closures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented an unprecedented challenge to children’s education and wellbeing,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “We must prioritize children’s learning. This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”
According to the report, around 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, which puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases. More than one third of these children (295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa. In the least developed countries, 7 out of 10 schools lack basic handwashing facilities and half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.
In 2019, according to UNICEF website, 69 per cent of schools around the world had a basic drinking water service, but coverage varied widely between regions. In sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, less than half of schools had a basic drinking water service, compared with two out of three schools in Central and Southern Asia and four out of five schools in Northern Africa and Western Asia. Europe and Northern America and Australia and New Zealand had already achieved universal coverage – greater than 99 per cent – but there were insufficient data to estimate basic drinking water coverage in schools in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2019. Based on available data, achieving universal access to basic drinking water services in schools by 2030 will require a seven-fold increase in current rates of progress.
Sanitation in schools: The availability of functional and private toilets in schools positively impact health and learning outcomes, particularly for girls. In 2019, 63 per cent of schools around the world had a basic sanitation service, but coverage varied widely between regions. In sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, less than half of schools had a basic sanitation service, compared with two out of three schools in Central and Southern Asia, three out of four schools in Latin America and the Caribbean, and four out of five schools in Northern Africa and Western Asia. Europe and Northern America and Australia and New Zealand had already achieved universal access (>99 per cent) but there were insufficient data to estimate basic sanitation coverage in schools in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Achieving universal access to basic sanitation services in schools by 2030 will require a five-fold increase in current rates of progress.
A cursory look at the map presented by UNICEF shows 25 to 51% of Indian schools do not have sanitation facilities. (See map: Source: Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools: Special focus on COVID-19, New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization, 2020.).
The joint report stresses that governments seeking to control the spread of COVID-19 must balance the need for implementation of public health measures versus the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures. Evidence of the negative impacts of prolonged school closures on children’s safety, wellbeing and learning are well-documented, the report says.
“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is essential for effective infection prevention and control in all settings, including schools," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "It must be a major focus of government strategies for the safe reopening and operation of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.”
Other key findings from the report include:
- Of the 818 million children who lacked a basic handwashing service at their school, 355 million went to schools which had facilities with water but no soap, and 462 million to schools which had no facilities or water available for handwashing.
- In the 60 countries at highest risk of health and humanitarian crises due to COVID-19, 3 in 4 children lacked basic handwashing service at their school at the start of the outbreak; half of all children lacked basic water service; and more than half lacked basic sanitation service.
- 1 in 3 schools worldwide had either limited drinking water service or no drinking water service at all.
698 million children lacked basic sanitation service at their school.