Schools still do not provide healthy and inclusive learning environments for all children

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Despite the fact that the number of schools that do not have basic water, sanitation and hygiene services continues to decrease, deep inequalities persist between countries and within them, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Fund for the UN for Children (UNICEF) in its Joint Monitoring Program on these services.

In a report, the agencies highlighted that the most affected students are those from the least developed countries and those living in vulnerable environments. The study provides new data and indicates that there are few schools that have accessible water, sanitation and hygiene services for people with disabilities.

Thus, 29% of schools around the world lack basic drinking water services, affecting 546 million students; 28% of schools do not have basic sanitation services, impacting 539 million students; and 42% do not have basic hygiene services, a situation that affects 802 million students.

The two regions where coverage of basic sanitation and hygiene services in schools remains below 50% are sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania; the first is the only area where the basic drinking water service in schools is still below 50%.

To achieve universal coverage in schools by 2030, it is necessary multiply by 14 the current rates of progress in terms of drinking water, triple those for sanitation and quintuple those for hygiene.

The situation is even more complex in the least developed countries and in vulnerable settings, since reaching universal coverage of sanitation services in schools by 2030 would require multiplying by more than 100 and by 50 the respective current rates of progress.

Little preparation in schools for minors with disabilities

The study notes that only a limited number of countries reported on the provision of accessible water, sanitation and hygiene services for persons with disabilities in schools.

New national data shows that coverage is low and varies widely between school levels and urban and rural locationsand that schools are more likely to have accessible drinking water than sanitation or hygiene services.

In half of the countries for which data is available, less than a quarter of schools had accessible toilets for people with disabilities. As an example, eight out of ten Yemeni schools had services, but only one in 50 had accessible toilets for people with disabilities.

In most of the countries that reported on this issue, schools are more likely to have adapted infrastructure and materials – such as ramps, assistive technology and teaching materials – than accessible toilets for people with disabilities.

In El Salvador, two out of every five schools have adapted infrastructure and materials, but only one in 20 has handicapped accessible toilets.

Reactions to the report

The director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Climate, Environment, Energy and Disaster Risk Reduction of UNICEF, Kelly Ann Naylor, stressed that there are still too many children in their schools who lack drinking water, clean toilets and soap, a situation that makes learning difficult.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of providing healthy and inclusive learning environments (…) The path to recovery lies in equipping schools with basic services to fight infectious diseases now and in the future” , he emphasized.

An opinion that was supported by the director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health of the WHO when she pointed out that access to water, sanitation and hygiene is not only essential in the prevention of these conditions, but is also an essential requirement “for the health, development and well-being of children”.

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