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Out-of-school children & sanitation

Updated September 06, 2013

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ACCORDING to the report, ‘The state of Pakistan’s children 2012’ (June 28), Pakistan ranks second with the most out-of-school children in the world, with only Nigeria ahead of it. More than 423,000 children die in Pakistan before reaching their fifth birthday.

The Sindh MDGs report (Oct 2012) says targets of achieving universal primary education are unlikely to be met at the current rate of progress. The Sindh Education Reform Programme (SERP) is also worried about low enrolments and high school dropout rates.

The SERP management must understand that dropout rates are directly linked to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools.

Thus schools must provide safe drinking water, decent sanitation, and hygiene facilities if they want to avoid children’s dropout and absenteeism. Girls must have separate toilet facilities, with hand-washing provision.

Washing hands with soap regularly at critical times (after using the latrine and before eating) is a great barrier against many diseases. According to a UK study, washing hands with soap can reduce diarrhoea risk by 47pc.

According to the Water, Engineering and Development Centre, UK (2004), wash facilities can significantly reduce the mortality rate and incidence of sickness and disease in children under five; increase the opportunity for children to attend school; increase their performance, as well as increase girls’ attendance in schools.

Diarrhoea is the largest preventable killer of children under five. Nearly 1.7 million young children die each year of diarrhoea associated with inadequate water supplies, sanitation and hygiene.

Poor water and sanitation facilities give rise to eye and skin infections (trachoma, preventable by hand and face washing), typhoid, cholera, dengue and snail infections (schistosomiasis).

Contaminated water plays a significant role in malnutrition, because vomiting and diarrhoea caused by waterborne diseases prevent the absorption of key nutrients in food. Unsafe water damages children’s digestive tracts, and the child’s gut is constantly assaulted by infections.

The WHO is promoting the concept of ‘health-promoting schools’, which provide strategic planning approach for promoting health of schoolchildren by improving the school’s physical and social environments, and enhancing knowledge in the field of environmental health and hygiene.

WASH in schools should be an integral aspect of education and not a stand-alone programme. Much can be achieved if schoolteachers are equipped with sound understanding and skills of WASH.

According to the World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolution 64.24, member-states need to provide adequate water, sanitation and hand washing facilities in schools and other public buildings.

They should also offer appropriate facilities for access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hand washing with soap in healthcare establishments, schools and other public buildings and settings.

Since the WB is funding the Sindh Education Reform Programme, it should incorporate an all-inclusive, ‘at scale’ WASH component in the existing investment portfolio, as this is the only ray of hope for providing comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools in Sindh.

F.H. MUGHAL
Karachi