KAMPALA —Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have tasked government to increase funding of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programmes in government schools and hospitals— saying the move will cut down avoidable expenditures.
Sharing experience during a one-day national dialogue that brought together stakeholders in water and environment sector under their umbrella association— Uganda Water and Sanitation Network (UWASNET), participants
painted a dark picture on hygiene situation and called on government to ensure that schools authorities adhere to recommended sanitation standards in schools.
“Investing in this [Water and Sanitation] sector averts any possible diseases outbreak,” she said— adding that government has not been budgeting for WASH intervention in schools yet it forms part of the necessary inputs needed to produce a healthy population.
She said that the absence of handwashing facilities [water and soap] exposes the pupil to infections and waterborne diseases including diarrhea.
Addressing reporters at the sidelines of the national dialogue, held Luzira-based UWASNET Secretariat, Yunia Yiga Musaazi, the executive director said the government needs to increase funding in schools to ensure adequate WASH facilities in different schools
She also wants the government to establish guidelines that make it mandatory for schools to plan and budget for wash as the current system of lumping services delivery issues under administration costs is viewed as contingency issue.
“This limits the schools’ ability to respond to identified WASH gaps to put in place Menstrual Hygiene management facilities as well as PWDs’ accessible toilet facilities,” she said.
Musaazi also wants the government to partner with other players in the private sector to enhance the project financing.
WASH is the collective term for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.
Due to their interdependent nature, these three core issues are grouped together to represent a growing sector.
While each a separate field of work, each is dependent on the presence of the other.
For example, without toilets, water sources become contaminated; without clean water, basic hygiene practices are not possible.
On her part, Jacinta Nekesa, a senior technical manager for the Uganda Sanitation for Health Activity (USHA)—a USAID funded program told reporters that the dialogue sought cover gaps the water and environment sector.
She said that many government aided primary schools across the country lack recommended toilet facilities for their pupils, a situation that has put school authorities in a dilemma.
The children are at risk of contracting hygiene-related diseases.
“Shortage of toilets in primary schools is alarming in most parts of Ugandan schools,” she said “Toilets are in sorry state and present serious risks to the learners.
“As USHA, we do baseline to find out, what the situation, on WASH in schools and we intervene based on those findings.” “Our inventions involve construction, what we call hardware, and also software (like capacity building, information provision, and training the necessary stakeholders”),” she explained.
She noted that the program works in more than 100 schools in the North, East, and Central West regions.
“When we assessed to try and establish whether the schools were WASH-friendly, we found out that only 54 out of 100 schools were WASH-friendly,” she noted.
Nekesa said they are following up on the 46 schools to support them with the required facilities to reach the level of WASH friendliness.
According to the UNICEF Uganda Annual Report 2019, poor sanitation and hygiene, as well as unequal access to safe drinking water, make thousands of children very sick and at risk of death.
In most cases, children get diarrhea by drinking unsafe water or coming into contact with contaminated hands — theirs or parents or caregivers — that have not been washed with soap. In Uganda, diarrhea kills 33 children every day.
In schools, lack of proper sanitation facilities also leads to high absenteeism.
In addition to students missing school for 5 – 7 days to recover from diarrhea, the student’s family may have to spend money on medical care or medication to help treat this disease.
The impact on parents and their children’s lives is compounded because it is likely that children may contract the disease multiple times per year because in Uganda two thirds of households do not wash with soap.
The lack of proper sanitation and hand wash facilities in schools put students, School Administrators and Staff at increased risk of bacteria and virial infection like diarrhea and COVID-19.
According to UNICEF, more attention is being given to addressing this lack of
sanitation issue in Uganda because The Ministry of Education and Sports only created the first-ever budget line for WASH in its annual budget for the financial year July 2019/2020.
Replying to some of issues raised by participants, Mr. Musa Birungi, a Senior Education Officer Basic Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Sports who shield himself from scrutiny by reporters said they are trying to use school children as a channel of giving out critical messages on how to improve the WASH situation in terms of operation and maintenance, cleaning, and in terms of mobilizing parents to come and support WASH in schools for sustainability.