Covid-19 spurs school sanitation
19 October 2020 | Infrastructure
The accelerated provision of water and toilets to schools over the past seven months offers a much-needed reprieve from the relentless blitz of gloomy news since the pandemic struck.
Spurred on by the international health crisis, a multi-million dollar emergency facility has enabled the education ministry, with the help of regional and state partners, to install new toilets, renovate decrepit bathrooms and provide water to hundreds of schools at an unprecedented rate since March.
Education ministry executive director Sanet Steenkamp confirmed that the Covid-19 emergency funding helped to accelerate the ministry's goal to address the urgent water and sanitation challenges of many schools countrywide since the pandemic hit.
“We are cognisant of the number of rural schools that do not have access to water or ablution facilities. However, with the occurrence of Covid-19, a significant number of schools have or are being provided with water and sanitation facilities through the N$600 million emergency facility for education that was availed in the 2020/21 national budget.”
By steering money through regional council procurement committees, 226 schools were targeted for water provision, 242 schools identified to have their ablution facilities renovated, and 301 schools identified for new toilets by September.
“It took us years to get this kind of money,” Steenkamp said.
She said that the money was allocated to the regions not only for schools and hostels without ablution or water provision but those whose ablution facilities had deteriorated and needed renovations.
She highlighted that while many infrastructure challenges remain in the education sector, the Covid-19 emergency funding has been key to addressing urgent problems this year at an unprecedented rate.
Steenkamp said the emergency funds are coordinated by a multi-stakeholder national planning committee that includes several line ministries and other state institutions to ensure its equitable distribution.
The latest available data on ablution and water access at schools, from the 2019 Education Management Information System (EMIS), indicated that around 18% (346) of Namibian schools had no electricity, 13% (250) were without sanitation and 11% (211) had no potable water.
Steenkamp noted that the next survey will be conducted later this year as part of the ministry’s annual survey to determine the needs at schools.
Ministry spokesperson Absalom Absalom said last week not all schools were located in areas where piped water or flush toilets could be installed, and in such cases water is now being delivered by other means and pit latrines were installed.
He said Covid-19 has “accelerated” the ministry’s goal of ensuring that all schools are equipped with the basic infrastructure needs.
“If education is the key to helping children escape poverty, access to water and sanitation is key to helping children safely maximise their education. To neglect this is to be careless with the wellbeing and health of children,” Kelly Ann Naylor, the global chief of water, sanitation and hygiene and UNICEF said in 2018.
She cautioned that many countries “face the uphill battle of ensuring funds are prioritised to install and maintain basic water, sanitation and hygiene services in all schools”.
In August, a joint report by WHO and UNICEF revealed that globally, around 818 million children lack basic hand washing facilities at their schools. More than one-third of these children - 295 million - are from sub-Saharan Africa.
Absalom this week underlined that improving access to water and ablution facilities at schools is an ongoing activity.
Moreover, the ministry confirmed that a Community-Led School Sanitation (CLSS) was launched in 2017 to end open defecation in schools and communities and to improve water, sanitation and hygiene through a community-led approach.