By Mustapha Sesay, Sierra Leone.
Water is an essential in our daily activities and a basic right for all to access it at affordable rate.
It is unfortunate that as the world continues to celebrate World Water Day, most developing countries including Sierra Leone suffer from acute water shortage to millions of its population.
The situation for the scramble of water in the major cities is similar to those in the remote areas. It is disturbing to see the plight of the masses in the dirty drainages in the city of Freetown in long lines cutting rubber pipes for drinking water. If such a situation exist in the cities them what can we say about the rural poor areas.
This is one major factor for the spread of water borne diseases like diarrhea or cholera.
In majority of the schools, there is the absence of non functional taps; this has serious effects on the education of our children as the lack of water enhances poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
In our Universities, the situation is very deplorable as students go without pure and affordable drinking water not to mention a decent learning environment, and yet society continues to talk of a clean environment.
In the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, most policies are not actually implemented in these educational institutions despite the various policies and huge chunk of funds provided. It must be noted that institutions have a very high percentage of the youthful population that continue to die slowly from unhealthy environment now called educational places.
How long can such deplorable places continue to exist and allow our children to inhale these polluted environments?
In some schools, teachers boldly stand in front of the children and teach the importance of water in our daily lives, yet in the schools not a single tap or well water could be located.
Water is essential for man’s daily activities and children cannot go without it for hours. Apart for being used as a source for drinking, they need it to wash their hands before eating so that the food is not contaminated. But in the absence of well water or standby taps, the children are left with no option but to eat contaminated food which contributes to the spread of diseases and affect their health status.
Many a time, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continue to operate in some regions without considering the felt needs of the populace, they go about installing water wells in certain places that are not utilized by the people, which at the end of the day becomes a waste of resources. It is but necessary that governments in African States prioritize the issue of water and in the schools. There is the need for school children to have access to affordable and clean drinking water within their environment and not go out of the compound in search of it.
In most schools, as the dry season reaches its peak children would be seen moving out of the school compound to the neighborhood begging for cups of water to satisfy their thirst. Some class teachers have tried to arrest the situation by ensuring that the children contribute and buy a bucket to have water so as to deter others going out when classes are in session.
At the recent World Water Forum in Marseille, France, the UNDP Deputy Director for External Relations and Advocacy, Romesh Muttukumaru stated that ‘The Global Water Solidarity Platform, which is supported by the governments of France and Switzerland, connects local authorities and organizations to take action to solve water and sanitation challenges, through which, for example, municipal water authorities in more developed countries can take direct action to support the improvement of water and sanitation services in developing contexts by contributing 1% of their revenue or budgets’.
Muttukumaru further revealed that local authorities and water utility companies play a key role in responding to the challenges. “Together with an active coalition of stakeholders and concrete cooperation mechanisms, local leaders from across the globe are working in solidarity so everyone can access safe water and sanitation services,”
Manfred Kauffman, Chairman of solidarit’eau Suisse, a founding member of the Global Water Solidarity, said his organization has raised more than 2 million euros thus far by connecting communities in Switzerland with communities in the developing world to improve their water and sanitation.
In a report released by UNICEF, the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene affects children’s right to education in many ways. In an atmosphere of poor health, children are unable to fulfill their education potential. For example, 400 million school-aged children a year are infected by intestinal worms, which, research shows, sap their learning abilities.
As teachers working with children and helping to mould their lives, there are lots of ways of making recommendations to the Boards of Governors and the Governments through the school administration to ensure that the schools partly determine children’s health and well-being by providing a healthy or unhealthy environment. Although water and sanitation facilities in schools are increasingly recognized as fundamental for promoting good hygiene behaviour and children’s well-being, many schools have very poor facilities.
Conditions vary from inappropriate and inadequate sanitary facilities to the outright lack of latrines and safe water for drinking and hygiene
The teachers can also be a key factor for initiating change by helping to develop useful life skills on health and hygiene. Children are often eager to learn and willing to absorb new ideas. New hygiene behaviour learned at school can lead to life-long positive habits. Teachers can function as role models. School children can influence the behaviour of family members.
Today the West Africa Water and Sanitation Media Network (WASH –JN) an organization formed by journalists in the sub-region have added their call together with their partners at global and country level, to draw up programmes to improve sanitation and promote. As teachers, more priority and time allocation should be accorded to this subject. Pin ups and trash cans should be placed in various locations and school hygiene clubs formed to propagate the ideals of school Sanitation and Hygiene Education.
In the homes, the situation is more serious, as they are also forced to stay at home when family members become sick (often due to hygiene-related diseases); girls are more likely to be kept home to care for them.
To address this menace in our countries, there is the need to providing water closer to homes, increase girls’ free time and boost their school attendance. All children need a sanitary and hygienic learning environment, but the lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools has a stronger negative impact on girls than on boys. Girls need safe, clean, separate and private sanitation facilities in their schools.
Story sent for the Contest 2012.