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Washing hands: a big step in Tanzania to encourage school attendance
“Nowadays we do not depend on the district water supply as we did before. This has reduced the water problem when the district water supply is off, because we have storage tanks and a rainwater harvesting system. We have enough water and we are happy. Thank you so much for your support.” Dalali Michael, 13.
This story, taken from a UNICEF report, is repeated over and over, in different words, when access to water becomes a reality. In Tanzania, there was a 12 percent increase in school attendance when water became available 15 minutes away, rather than an hour.
The total enrollment rate in primary schools had been stagnating at around 77 percent, when the government undertook a development program for the sector. Focusing initially on primary schools, it sought to improve quality, expand access and increase building completion. However, with increasing numbers of students, the facilities soon became inadequate. At the same time, the restricted access to water and sanitation deterred students, especially girls, from attending classes.
Although Tanzania is highly aid dependent, the World Bank points out that its economy has been steadily growing at around seven percent per year. Nevertheless poverty remains prevalent. Approximate 30 million people, or about 75 percent of the total population, live in rural households that constitute 80 percent of the country’s poor. In this context, the education system struggles to deliver quality tuition, while dealing with the increasing pressure on over-extended and under-invested social services.
Half the population of Tanzania is under 18 years of age, with waterborne diseases representing the highest health risk, especially for the 36 percent that live below the poverty line.
One of the biggest killers of children worldwide – with one death every 15 seconds – is water-related illnesses caused by dirty drinking water and poor sanitation. The millions that don’t succumb are often so incapacitated by water-related diseases that they can’t attend school. Investing in clean drinking water and improved sanitation would result in an added 272 million days each year of school attendance worldwide.
Water and education closely linked
Water, hygiene and sanitation in educational institutions are areas of concern in Tanzania. A recent report by UNICEF provides shocking data: 38 percent of primary schools have no water supply on school premises; 84 percent don’t have functioning hand-washing facilities; 96 percent of schools lack accessible sanitary facilities for disabled children; and 52 percent do not have doors on toilets to ensure privacy for girls.
As part of a country-wide program to reduce child mortality and vulnerability to disease, the “Scaling up of School Water Sanitation and Hygiene (SWASH) in Tanzania” is an initiative funded by UNICEF, Australian Aid and OFID. The project, which is supported with an OFID grant, aims to support SWASH in 57 schools. Dr. Omar El Hattab, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF, Tanzania, explained to the Quarterly that support from OFID was making a contribution to boost access to school water supply, better hygiene and higher levels of sanitation, particularly for children with disabilities in 10 target schools. OFID’s contribution is also improving the skills and the governance of SWASH in the same schools.
“The OFID-financed activities have been implemented in a total of 10 schools in the Irnga, Shinyanga and Mwanza regions, benefitting almost 5,000 school children and 1,500 community members, encompassing teachers, district staff, school management, village government leaders and community mobilizers, he said.”
This project is still underway, and by December 2013, more infrastructure will have been constructed and more people will be receiving training to increase awareness and commitment to SWASH. The impact of the enhancement of the water supply system is explained well by Paul Pascal, a 16-year-old student: “First I would like to thank the donors for this support. We did not practice good behavior in washing hands, but now we wash our hands and this will help to reduce waterborne diseases in our school. Apart from that, I am so happy to see that pupils with disabilities have access to sanitation suitable to their needs.”