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AFGHANISTAN: Thousands of schools lack drinking water, sanitation

KABUL, 12 May 2009 (IRIN) - About two million state school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about 75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation facilities, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Only 60 percent of schools have water [on site]," Zahida Stanikzai, UNICEF's water and sanitation expert, told IRIN in Kabul.

Drinking water and sanitation facilities are also insufficient in many other schools. IRIN visited Char Qala Wazir Abad secondary school in Kabul where about 9,000 students have only one hand-operated water pump. "When it gets hot hundreds of students rush to the pump all at once," said Sharifa, a teacher at the school.

Over six million students are enrolled in over 10,000 schools across the country; some 34 percent of the students are female, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE). About five million school-age children are out of school, according to aid agencies such as Oxfam.

MoE officials acknowledge the lack of drinking water and sanitation facilities at schools but say such problems are limited to only 12 percent of state schools.

"This year we will dig 5,000 wells at schools which lack water points," Asif Nang, MoE's spokesman, told IRIN.

Poor sanitation

"[School] toilets are not clean and well maintained. The current design and location of toilets are not acceptable for children, particularly girls... There are no facilities for grown-up girls," Stanikzai said.

"One of the reasons that the girls do not attend school is because there are no sanitation facilities," said UNICEF's Jalalabad head of office Prakash Tuladhar. "It is very important that water and sanitation [systems] are built as components of the school programme. If there are no latrines, then it is almost certain that girls will not be attending school."

Washing hands with soap, particularly after visiting the toilet and before eating, can reduce child morbidity rates caused by diarrhoeal diseases by almost 50 percent, according to UNICEF. However, the practice is poorly understood and is rarely practiced by families, especially in rural communities.

"In most of the schools hand washing facilities are not placed in a proper place. There is a lack of resources to provide soap for hand washing," said UNICEF's Stanikzai.

Diarrhoea threat


The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation means students, particularly younger ones, are prone to diarrhoea and other infectious diseases, experts say.

Afghanistan has one of the highest child mortality and morbidity rates in the world and every year thousands of children die from diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases, according to UNICEF.

Diarrhoea-related diseases account for 20 percent of deaths among children under five in Afghanistan, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Despite these staggering figures, there is no nationwide data about school absences due to diseases.

UNICEF said it had been helping MoE to provide "safe drinking water and sustainable child friendly sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion" in 500 schools over the past few years.

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Theme (s): Children, Education, Water & Sanitation,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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