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Lack of WASH services put children at risk as schools reopen

Inadequate access to safe drinking water and lack of hygiene at schools could result in serious health consequences for children.

News18.com | Updated: March 1, 2022, 5:23 PM IST

Inadequate access to safe drinking water and lack of hygiene at schools could result in serious health consequences for children. As the schools are gradually reopening for students of all classes across the states, it becomes inevitable to have functional and improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities at the schools. Lack of clean water in schools, especially in the times of COVID-19 when schools are reopening after two years might put kids at severe risk.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), in 2019 over 92 million children in India did not have access to hygiene services at schools.  Majority of government schools lacked basic WASH services as only one in three schools had the basic WASH infrastructure.

However, there is a significant improvement in access to clean water at schools due to the efforts of the Central government under the flagship scheme of Jal Shakti Mission. The Jal Shakti Ministry on October 2, 2020, launched a 100-day campaign to ensure 100% potable water supply in all schools and anganwadi centres across India. It resulted in nine states and one Union Territory achieving the target of 100% tap water supply at all schools and anganwadi centres. By July 2021, within less than 10 months of the launch of the special drive, 66% schools and 60% anganwadi centers across the country received tap water connections, according to the Jal Shakti Ministry.

Despite the progress under the Jal Jeevan Mission, there are still a large number of schools and anganwadi centres which lack potable water supply and basic hygiene services at schools.  As the Covid-19 pandemic situation improves and schools are reopening across states, the lack of basic WASH services could expose the children to numerous health risks.  

The situation becomes worse when schools are reopening after two years due to COVID-19. Without the water in the schools, it becomes very difficult and risky for children as they stay in the school for the whole day. Lack of clean water can cause various diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid which may prove to be fatal for children.

Some schools where tap water is available, there is a lack of sanitation services and maintenance of the wash basins. Steady water supply for toilets and hand washing facilities are crucial to keep the students away from infections. While the country has rapidly increased the water coverage in every school for WASH practices, many institutes still do not have soaps or hand wash, which is a basic need to operate a school safely in the times of COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to reduce the risk of students falling sick due to lack of water or contaminated water, the government should provide toilets that flush into the sewer with proper water supply. There should be an awareness campaign among children to promote WASH practices and proper use of soaps while washing hands that could prevent children from water borne disease.

Install water purifiers in the schools for drinking water and ensure timely maintenance of the tanks that collect water.

Rain water harvesting should be implemented in every school in order to save water from wastage and proper utilisation.

The educational institution could be a key in initiating change by promoting hygiene habits through various campaigns in the schools as good hygiene behaviour learned at early age proves to be beneficial for the children in the long run and also for the overall health of the country.

Mission Paani, an initiative by News 18 and Harpic India, advocates access to clean water, safe sanitation and hygiene for all. The campaign aims to amplify all efforts towards sustainable sanitation and hygiene.  

Mission Paani creates awareness towards the efforts to ensure inclusive sanitation and hygiene for all.  You can be part of this revolution too. Join the Mission Paani Movement 

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