Improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in South African schools through cross-sectoral partnership
There is a growing recognition of how poor environmental conditions, particularly lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), negatively affect the most vulnerable – children’s health and, as a result, their school performance. However, these issues are all interlinked. For example, lack of toilets leads to the contamination of water resources; and without clean water, basic hygiene practices cannot be followed.
Improving WASH in Schools requires collaborative effort
Understanding and addressing these complex interactions requires diverse and nuanced perspectives from a range of stakeholders and a concerted and collaborative effort to address these challenges across sectors. In the South African context, there are myriad challenges to providing adequate WASH in schools. To complicate matters, different challenges to WASH access and infrastructure pose different challenges and risks at different ages, and for different genders. Younger children, for instance, are at risk of drowning in pit latrines that are not properly managed and maintained. Young girls face numerous challenges related to menstrual hygiene and access to sanitary products. All of this means that providing access to adequate WASH facilities is not only a human rights issue, but an issue of dignity.
Progress towards adequate WASH has been made – but more is needed
While the proportion of people with access to an improved water source has increased, the standards of this access have not been maintained at the same rate, and the proportion of people with access to a water service that is “available when needed” has actually decreased. Recent surveys have also shown that progress on sanitation provision has stalled, with reaching the final 20% proving to be the most difficult to address.
Although backlogs remain, significant progress has been made in providing WASH facilities in communities and schools. For example, over the past decade, children’s access to WASH facilities has increased significantly, largely due to increased urbanisation. In addition, the private sector has been very active in this area, supporting WASH in Schools (WinS), water loss reduction, water access and water quality issues.
A cross-sectoral partnership to strengthen WASH in Schools
To support this progress, NatuReS is partnering with GIZ’s DeveloPPP project, which oversees development partnerships with the private sector, in this case consumer packaged goods company Unilever, to implement systemic approaches to improve WASH in Schools in South Africa.
Applying the globally proven Fit for School approach, the initiative aims to strengthen operations and maintenance activities in schools, address challenges related to menstrual health and hygiene, and bolster pandemic preparedness and response plans. The team has identified 12 schools in two provinces (Eastern Cape and Gauteng) to pilot and model this approach in urban informal settings.
A joint way forward
Exciting developments include initial meetings with schools, local communities, and provincial and district education officials during August, with a Fit for School intervention tailored to the South African context to be launched in September 2023. Watch this space for updates!